The Power of Habits

Curious things, habits. People themselves never knew they had them.

Agatha Christie, 1890 – 1976, world’s best selling novelist


oct-04-13I meet October 1st with both excitement and trepidation. It signals the start of the holiday trifecta – Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas – for my family, when the smell of freshly baked pumpkin pie and sugar cookies nestled between festive decorations abound.*

How could I possibly have apprehension with that vision, you ask? It is those pesky (but tasty) snacks that I dread. It is easy to fall into the habit of mindlessly eating them, only to find five extra pounds have joined me on January 1st.

I’ve learned that the strategy that works best for me to combat that added weight is to proactively think about and re-instill healthy eating habits at the start of October to carry me through the holiday season. My goal is to leave those five pounds on the barbells at the gym versus on my waist.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, says that every habit— good or bad — follows the same three-step pattern:

  1. Reminder – the trigger that initiates the behavior
  2. Routine – the behavior itself; the action you take
  3. Reward – the benefit you gain from doing the behavior

This pattern has been proven over and over again by behavioral psychology researchers. Repeat the same action enough times, and it becomes a habit.

Action 1: Set a Reminder for Your New Habit 
The reminder is a critical part of forming new habits. You can’t expect yourself to magically stick to a new habit without setting up a system that makes it easier to start. A good reminder makes it easy to start by encoding your new behavior in something that you already do.

Action 2: Choose a Habit That’s Easy to Start
Lasting change is a product of daily habits, not once–in–a–lifetime transformations. [It Is All in the Dings, remember?] If you want to start a new habit, consider one simple but powerful suggestion: start small. Decide what want your new habit to be. Ask yourself, “How can I make this new behavior so easy to do that I can’t say no?”

Action 3: Identify the Reward
Because an action needs to be repeated for it to become a habit, it is important that you reward yourself each time you practice your new habit. Give yourself credit for changing your behavior and starting a new habit.

What habits are you following to ensure that you are _________ [fill in the blank with one of your key goals, e.g., being healthy, providing quality service to your clients, building your business, supporting your students’ / teams’ learning and growth]?

*FYI, there are some years when I am lucky to even get the Christmas tree standing up straight without duct tape securing it against the wall. Visions of sugar plums and pumpkin pies are just that – visions that never see the light of day!

Happy holidays and habit-forming to all of you.

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Sandra Schwan