Several weeks ago I read a book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, a fascinating (no, really!) read on how and why habits form, how they work, and how you can use them to your advantage. I’ve been pondering these ideas for a while now, examining my good – and not-so-good – habits, and trying to identify what purpose they serve.
According to Duhigg’s research, old routines, old habits never really go away. Great, right?? Might as well put on your yoga pants and crack open a pint of ice cream. Not so fast, missy! Old habits never go away, but they can be overwritten. That’s what I want to talk about today: overwriting old habits with new ones.
If you want to change a habit, to overwrite it, you need to identify the three parts of your habit loop: the cue, the routine, and the response.
- The cue – what was the signal, the stimulus, that prompted you to act?
- The routine – this is the behavior, the habit.
- The reward – what is it you’re seeking? What is it, really, that your habit is satisfying?
The Habit Loop
I’ll put myself under the microscope, for the good of all womankind. For me, the routine is easy to identify. Like many of us, I am an evening snacker. I do great during the day, but I tend to mindlessly find myself in the kitchen raiding the kids’ cookie jar for something to go with my glass of wine around 9PM most evenings. And if I’m not there, I’m fighting the urge to go there.
It didn’t take much analysis for me to identify the cue that sets me on this path. For me, it’s putting my youngest child to bed. I come downstairs from reading Where the Wild Things Are and singing Au clair de la lune and the need for… something… hits me.
Identifying the reward I’m seeking, however, has proven to be a much tougher task. It’s not an end to hunger. If I was hungry, a piece of fruit or some carrot sticks and hummus would suffice. And they do not. :) It’s not distraction. It’s not comfort. It’s more… relaxation? Zoning out? Putting the youngest to bed signals to me ahh, time for me now. The oldest is watching a movie, my husband is computing, and my responsibilities are, for the most part, over for the day.
Once you’ve identified the cue and the reward, you can start experimenting with changing up the routine. Find a new routine that will deliver the same reward. For example, as I said above, if the reward I was seeking was an end to hunger, changing the routine from cookies to carrot sticks should have sufficed.
I tried invoking my long-dormant crafty gene, sitting down in the evenings with a cross-stitch project or my crochet hooks. And that was… nice, pleasant. I’m glad I started doing that again, but it fell flat in delivering that me time I’m looking for as a reward. Perhaps, I think, because I’m too accessible as Mom when I’m sitting there in the same room with the family, looking as if I’m doing nothing. It’s easy to call on me to ask for a snack or to change out a DVD. Which I’m happy to do, of course – I’m not looking to isolate myself from my family. I’m just looking to try and carve out a little space in the evenings in which I can step back.
I’ve decided that for the next two weeks, I’m going to move my yoga practice to the evening, just after I put the little to bed. Usually my yoga time is hit or miss, whenever I can find the time for it, many days not at all. It’s a habit I’m trying to build :) Hopefully, doing this will help me to focus on me, let me step away from being mom for just a bit, and give me that reward I’m craving. The others around me will see I’m busy and will give me the time and space I need to do it. I’m committing to 15 minutes of yoga practice every evening – if I choose to continue after that, all the better! I’ll let you know in a couple weeks how it’s working out, or if my search for a new routine continues…
What habit do you have you’d like to change? What’s the reward it delivers? If this is something you’re interested in learning more about, I highly suggest the resources available here.