The first in a series on Habits
“But the fact is that our virtues are habits as much as our vices. All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits,—practical, emotional, and intellectual, — systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.....”
We navigate nearly half our days on autopilot, mindlessly executing well-entrenched habits like eating, sleeping, relaxing and emotionally reacting. It's mind-blowing how much these “under the radar” actions can shape of our life. Without being guided by our regular routines, we would look, feel and act very differently.
Understanding how habits work is BIG news for Emotional Detectives. Although habits commonly operate outside of our awareness, they don't need to. With a little effort, you can easily understand your habits from the bottom up.
In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes how a habit is born when a sequence of actions gets stored as a chunk in the brain (in the basil ganglia). Each habit can be broken down into three stages:
- Cue (sensory, mental, or physical trigger: like time, place, people, tone, circumstances)
- Routine (mindless sequence of mental, emotional and/or physical actions)
- Reward (physical, emotional, or mental satisfactions like orgasm, joy, or insight)
So, for example, the red light on a smart phone (cue) prompts you to check your email (routine) which makes you feel connected and on top of things (reward). Or, passing your favorite bakery (cue) may prompt you to buy a cookie (routine), bringing a sensual delight and brief energy boost (reward). Establishing good habits that accomplish meaningful goals really does give you an advantage in life.
Emotional Detectives already investigate below radar, so it is not a large stretch to start to study your habits. When you discover things you want to change, set aside time to focus on planning how to develop new habits, allocating sufficient mental energy to make sure that your routines work for you, not against you.
How to develop or change habits realistically, to maximize happiness and wellness?
Take interest in what’s going on below the radar. Study your existing habits carefully. Take note of good habits. Consider if you would like to expand upon your existing routines (making new recipes or describing your dreams to someone else).
Make a list of what you'd like to add to your life and then consider what you would like to tackle first.
- · What are cues for your good habits?
- · Which of your routines do you think are especially useful?
- · How what are the rewards?
- · How did your best habits develop?
- · Which new habits you would like to establish or add on?
When thinking about establishing a new habit, select a routine, and then establish a cue and reward. For example, on Sundays (cue) I call home (routine) feeling pleased with myself (reward) before having a nice dinner (another reward).
Play around with different rewards to see what outcome ensures the maintenance of the new routine (for example, is your self-satisfaction for calling home enough reward, or is a nice dinner needed as well?)