Changing Habits

I attended a meeting in New York last week where the book – “The Power of Habit” – by Charles Duhigg was mentioned. The brief overview of the concept intrigued me so much that I downloaded the book when I arrived in Texas later that evening. This was a mistake from a sleep perspective because I found it difficult to put my ebook down. While I have only read half of the book – a little thing called work got in the way this week – I have learned a lot already.

The book’s premise is based on complex brain science but Duhigg presents these ideas in a very simple way. I’ve heard bits and pieces of this concept in the past, primarily through the teachings of the many diet programs I have tried, but Duhigg pulls all the pieces together in a way that helped me understand the ‘why’ behind some of the advice I have been given over the years and also why I deviate from my routines.

Simply put, cues trigger our behavior. We have a routine that follows that cue and we receive a reward after we have completed the routine. The author shared an example of a mid-afternoon routine of getting a cookie in the cafeteria. His cue was the time of day, the routine was getting the cookie and the reward was the satisfying taste of the cookie.

What I learned was that we first have to identify the real cue. The author’s cue occurred mid-afternoon but he needed to understand the real driver behind the cue. Was he really hungry? Was he bored? Did he simply need to get up and move? Duhigg decided to change his routine and substitute a cup of coffee and a conversation for the cookie. He found that he was satisfied.

Upon understanding the first three steps of the concept (more to learn as I read on), I became acutely aware of my cues. For example, if I get up at 5 am on a week day, I will faithfully exercise for an hour. But if I get up later, the chances I will exercise decrease because 5 am is my cue to exercise. If I sleep in later, I believe my mind tells me I have missed the opportunity for “me time” and that I must get to work. Weekends are worse but not because I sleep in later. If I go directly to my elliptical machine I exercise for an hour. But if my husband and I decide to go to breakfast at the local Bob Evans, my workout routine is shot.

Duhigg fills the pages with interesting stories of real life celebrities like Tony Dungy and Michael Phelps and not so famous people such as a man whose contributions to science came at the expense of his retirement years. I highly recommend this book to anyone who really wants to understand how to change their routines to exercise more or eat better.

Speak loudly, step boldly!

Image courtesy of Charles DuhiggMarch 27th, 2014 10:06am Beth Bierbower charles duhigg the power of habit