Some habits are hard to break and some are hard to instill. I’d like to stop my sugar cravings and to get to bed at a decent time and to stop yelling at my kid. I would also like to set up a regular excercise routine. Yet, I fail time and time again when I try to change or start a new habit.
I know I can change. I quit smoking. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, but eventually I did . That was around 15 years ago. I have to admit that every now and again I am hit with the urge to light up, but I won’t do it because I don’t want to start all over again. I tried everything to stop – cutting down the times I smoked, saying I had to sit and enjoy it, not while I was cooking or doing something else. I tried snacking on baby carrots, but that didn’t stop me. I tried licorice because I heard it cut down on cravings. Nope. I took up crochet and latch hook to keep my hands busy, but that was so frustrating I just wanted a smoke! Eventually, what helped me was running. But it had to be first thing in the morning before I got the urge to smoke. I also had to stop drinking alcohol for a while, because everytime I had a drink I wanted a cigarette.
In the book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business by Charles Duhigg, it explains how habits are formed and how we can go about changing them. I listened to the book on Playaway from the library as read by Mike Chamberlain. Duhigg explains that there are three parts to a habit: the cue, the routine and the reward. To change a habit you need to change the routine. In order to be successful you need to believe or have faith that you will succeed. He states that evidence shows that this is more successful when done in a group or community, which can be as small as two. This is one of the reasons that Weight Watchers works for some people. The group gives us validation and their belief scaffolds our own with fortitude.
Habits aren’t written in stone. Any habit can be changed, you just have to understand how. He spells out the how at the end with a four-step guide which consists of:
- Identifying the routine
- Experimenting with rewards
- Isolating the Cue
- Having a plan
Duhigg acknowledges that it can take a long time with repeated experiments and failures, but it can be done. I think I want to take a cue from Aristotle and establish habits of excellence.
When I first quit smoking, I started having panic attacks. I asked my doctor about it thinking the Ritalin was the cause. He told me that wasn’t a side effect, but that I had always dealt with stress by smoking and now that I wasn’t smoking I needed to find a way to deal with stress. I needed an alternate routine, as Duhigg says in the book, that would give me the same reward. I isolated the cues: dealing with stress and after a drink. I experimented with routines until I hit on one that worked: running. Then I had a plan. I would get up and run first thing in the morning without thinking about it and I would refrain from drinking alcohol until I had changed the habit. The reward was feeling relaxed and energized.
I found this on Wikipedia:
Almost all of those negative behaviours could be attributed to someone with ADD. I have everyone except overspending. Duhigg doesn’t mention ADD, he does finish by telling us that ultimately, if you know a bad habit exists, then it is your personal responsibility to get to work on changing it, unless of course you suffer from night terrors, then you are off the hook.( http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/nov/20/brian-thomas-dream-strangler-tragedy). The rest of us will have to get to work on being excellent.
I can see Duhigg’s point as he talks about gambling and other such bad habits like eating a cookie everyday and getting fat, but I take umbrage with wikipedia. I fidget, it doesn’t bother me – I can live with it.
What about you? Have you tried to change any habits? What worked or didn’t work for you?