The Power of Habit

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This is a repost from 2018. I reposted it last week, but it didn’t post. I am here to make amends on that. My bad.

I woke up this morning and immediately made the bed. Our rule is, the last one out makes it. I automatically made the bed. I didn’t have to use any  of my precious will power to make the decision, or think about if I had enough time to do it, or if I even wanted to do it.  I was aware of this because I have been working on this post, and I have been dissecting my  morning routine this week as I have thought deeply about my habits.

This book changed my life in my 50’s. I wish I  had known about  it earlier! I learned its principles and starting relying on “cues” to accomplish what I needed to do everyday. Before this book, I would set a goal and follow it for a while, but then lapse into old bad habits.  I have more of a creative, loosey-goosey brain that has resisted structure and routine. I have always flown by the seat of my pants until my book group read and reviewed this book, a few years ago.

Right now, The Power of Habit, is 13th on Amazon’s “Most Read List”. This means it is  one of the top 20 most sold & most read books of the week for the last 33 weeks on Amazon. One reviewer said:

“This book provides you with great encouragement as your explore many different people who have turned their lives around. This took place because they understood the habit cycle and the keys to changing that habit: recognizing the trigger for the ‘craving’ followed by replacing the actually habit (not the cue nor the reward).
Definitely a recommendation as I have already seen myself revitalize old healthier habits as well as change one that I’ve been ‘stuck’ in for quite some time.”

 I thought I would get a head start on the New Year and any resolutions you may want to do and remind myself as well by briefly summarizing The Power of Habit. Charles Duhigg, the author, teaches about:

1. Efficient brains1

2. Cue-Routine-Reward

3. Keystone Habits

4. Exercise and Willpower

5. Belief

Efficient Brains

We can get overwhelmed with all the information that we are given every day, so our brains become efficient at processing all the necessary and unnecessary thoughts, images, etc. that we are exposed to. If we do the same rituals everyday good or bad, our brains can put us on auto pilot so we don’t have to make the same decisions over and over everyday. Thank goodness! Evidently, we have will power that gets depleted every day by the end of the day and so establishing habits extends our willpower so we can perform what we need to do longer each day. If I had to debate every day that I was going to make my bed, I would lose more will power earlier in the day. Charles Duhigg, also teaches that we can replace bad habits with good habits because habits are malleable or flexible.

Cue-Routine-Reward

This was the most powerful idea of the book for me. It showed me the process, the how-to, to mold my habits. A “cue” is the beginning of the whole process. It could be that as soon as you get up you put on your exercise clothes. Another cue could be that  you always exercise at a certain time or after you do something else. After responding to your cue and performing whatever activity you were trying to do,  you reward yourself by acknowledging that you are doing something very hard, and you appreciate how you feel afterwards. Your reward could also be marking a chart or recording your exercise stats on an app or with an exercise partner. My reward for cleaning my bathrooms every week, which is not my favorite thing, is to play tennis right after. I think about how much fun I am going to have, while I am cleaning and scrubbing, and feel completely great spending two hours in the middle of the day filling my bucket, because I didn’t hire someone to come in and clean my bathrooms. The secret for me to still get it done however, is my commitment to doing it on Thursday mornings. No matter what. That is my routine, and I have learned to stick to it.

Keystone Habits

You identify your Keystone habits–the keystone being the important stone at the top of a stone arch that holds the whole arch together–that you want to develop. Some could include, always recording your expenses, regular scripture reading, drinking enough water everyday, or exercising–anything that is critical enough that you think will affect everything you do. Charles Duhigg shows how these keystone habits will build willpower and affect your whole life.

Exercise and Willpower

Studies have shown that exercise, even once a week, can have a huge effect on your life. Do it!

Willpower out predicts everything. The more we can develop it the better our lives will be. It out predicts IQ for academic performance. My husband Craig always says that he wasn’t the smartest when he went to graduate school to get a MBA. “But I could work circles around anyone else.”

Belief

Probably the most important idea is that you believe in your mindset. You believe that you can change your bad habits to become good ones. Charles Duhigg says you can replace bad habits with good ones. He has stories and research that supports his premise. Change your cue–routine–reward and you can change anything.

 How can this help you as a mother? Remember my favorite saying of 2017?

“Only you can give your children a happy mother.” If exercise helps you with the rest of your day, do it! If keeping tabs on your finances helps you feel in control and peaceful, arrange a cue-routine-reward until it becomes a habit. If showering everyday and getting ready before your children get up helps you feel on top of the day, figure out the cue-routine-reward so you can get it done. My friend Karen said at our book group when we were reviewing this book, “I make a green smoothie every morning, that’s my cue for family scripture studying.” My cue for exercise every morning used to be 6:30 no matter what. Then I realized I wasn’t making time for writing on this blog and so I switched things up and I exercise after. I have a deep rut in my brain for exercising so I never miss. I was able to do a switcheroo because  the endorphins release really helps my day and exercise helps me regulate a bad nights sleep. That is my reward  and the reward is worth it to me.

 Charles Duhigg gives countless stories of how habits persist in our brains, even as we age or have dementia. My father-in-law had a stroke in 2012, but still took their dog for a walk 4 times a day and always closed the blinds at sunset, among many of the habits that persisted after the stroke. Habits can be a positive powerful way to affect our life for good. What this book helped me realize is how much control I have over my life. That if I am willing to plan my cues and routine and work on my willpower, my brain will help me with the routines I dislike, like cleaning my bathrooms on Thursdays, changing my sheets on Wednesdays, or cleaning out my fridge on Mondays. Developing the cues-routines-rewards for just my house cleaning has put it all on automatic, and I don’t have to wrestle in my brain whether I want to do it or not. I have never wanted to do it, but The Power of Habit changed all that for me.  What habits have you successfully developed? What are your cues-routines-rewards?

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