The Power of Habit is a powerful book. I read it in the middle of the process of forming some habits and the book made so much sense to me. I’m focusing on forming two habits right now – exercising at least 4 times a week and meditating every day, and today is Day 27 since I started. A reliable source (aka the Internet) says it takes 66 days to form a habit. I’m not trusting it yet but I’m testing it. The former belief that I heard was 21 days, and I can tell you it’s not true. And I’ll tell you why in a second.
How to form a habit?
In The Power of Habit, the author Charles Duhigg explains how a habit is formed, which is a very simple process.
It starts with a trigger or a “cue” as the author puts it in the book (for example, seeing a candy jar), and your reaction to it (reaching into the candy jar to grab a candy) has been repeated so many times that it becomes a routine. In the end, there’s a reward for your reaction (tasting the sweetness on your taste buds). The key to the chain reaction is the craving for the reward (craving for the sweet taste). And the key in forming a habit is as you repeat the routine again and again, your brain will stop making decisions on what to do and whether to do it. Once you see the “cue”, you’ll automatically react, and that’s how a habit is formed.
Do you want to form a habit? Decide on a reward you want to get out of the habit and make sure you want it enough to have the “craving”.
This helps me understand how I’m forming the two habits. It’s Day 27, and I’ve been doing pretty well except for Day 22, this Monday, when I didn’t meditate. That’s why I don’t think the theory that you can form a habit in 21 days works.
In my case, the habits I’m forming are exercising at least 4 times a week and meditating every day. I do them after work. So every day after dinner at around 7pm, it’s my “cue” to exercise and then meditate. It helps to keep it public. I keep track of my progress on Twitter. Every week I crave for the time on Sunday when I can put in “on track” in my tweet. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. More importantly, I stick to the routine to avoid feeling guilty.
Have you experienced this? You made a plan to work out, and you gave up after a few tries and couldn’t stick to it. Did you feel guilty for giving it up? Yep, that’s the feeling I’m avoiding. The strongest motivation is not to seek pleasure but to avoid pain. If at the end of the week I can’t mark “on track” on my Twitter, I would have the painful guilty feeling.
To start is the easy part, but to stick to it is more difficult.
How can I not give up so easily?
1. Have a plan.
For example, you’re a student and you have a workout plan. Do you tend to stray away from the workout plan when you have too much homework or during the finals week? If you’re working, do you tend to stray away from your exercise when work gets demanding and you have to work overtime? The Power of Habit shows if you have a plan to address the obstacles beforehand, you’re less likely to have the obstacles catch you off guard and give up.
Knowing you tend to stray away from your workout plan when your other priorities need more time and energy, if you can think of ways to work around it and stick to your plan, for example, getting up early in the morning to exercise, you won’t give up so easily.
2. Learn from successful stories.
As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to learn. You just need to know some people out there have succeed in what you’re trying to achieve. It gives you faith. And faith is another key factor in forming a habit, according to the book. It makes you believe it’s completely possible to form the habit. When you start to have doubt, that’s when you give up. Seek out the successful stories to strengthen your faith.
What are the benefits of forming a habit?
You mean besides forming a habit that you can benefit from for life?
1. It strengthens your willpower.
Willpower or self-discipline is like a muscle. You need to practice it to make it stronger. The process of forming a habit is the practice. When you successfully form a habit, your willpower and self-discipline get strengthened. The blog post Habit or Discipline elaborates this benefit really well. Again, willpower is like a muscle, so don’t overuse it to exhaust it either.
2. It spills over to other aspects of your life.
What do I mean by that? When you form a habit, you’ll start to notice positive changes in other aspects of your life. For example, as you stick to your work out plan, you may start to eat healthier or feel more energized at work. In the article The Amazing Power of Changing Habits, you’ll see as the writer started to change his eating habit, he experienced another 10 positive changes in his life. And a lot of them are not even associated with his eating habit.
How can I break bad habits?
1. Look for an alternative route.
Remember the chain reaction I talked about in the beginning: cue–>routine–>reward (The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg)? The book suggests looking for a different “routine” to achieve the same “reward”. For example, you have a habit of having a drink or two after a day of stressful work. The alternative route to relieve the stress would be to listen to some soothing music or take a walk. Whichever route you take, the bottom line is to achieve the same goal.
2. Develop self-awareness.
Self-awareness helps you recognize what triggers your habitual reaction to a “cue” and what “reward” you get from the habitual reaction. Without good self-awareness, you’re unlikely to realize what you do routinely is forming a bad habit. Every Friday for the past few weeks I have been getting a seasonal coffee drink from Starbucks in addition to the weekly drink I get on Saturday. It’s not a life threatening bad habit, but with the amount of sugar and calories in it, it’s just not healthy to have two large coffee drinks every week.
I realized that Friday is the trigger, and having a seasonal coffee drink gives me the relaxed feeling that the weekend is here. Now I just need to find a healthy alternative.
If you’re trying to form a habit or try to break the bad ones, I hope this post will be helpful for you. You’ll find good guidance from The Power of Now.