Want to know that one thing that holds people back from success above all else?
Every year on the 1st of January, like many people, I commit to a New Year’s Resolution AND pretty much nearly every year, within days of making said resolution, I’ve broken it.
One year, I even joined a New Year’s Resolution club, which meets once a month, to hold me accountable. I attended about 3 meetings and then never attended again. The actual club itself was awesome and I made some friends for life in the initial sessions but, I was over-committed (bad habit!) and in the end was unable to continue attending.
After decades of setting and breaking my own New Year’s Resolutions, in 2015 I decided that if I failed to do my New Year’s Resolution, I would roll it over to the next year if I didn’t accomplish it. This has resulted in my New Year’s Resolutions looking like this the past 6 years:
- 2014: Do a Triathlon – which I didn’t do, so it rolled into 2015
- 2015: Do a Triathlon – which I did do!
- 2016: Get 7 hours sleep on average – which I didn’t do, so it rolled into 2017
- 2017: Get 7 hours sleep on average – which I didn’t do, so it rolled not 2018
- 2018: Get 7 hours sleep on average – which I didn’t do, so it rolled into 2019
- 2019: No resolution because I was so frustrated that in 3 years I still wasn’t getting more sleep.
The Power of Habit
On New Years Eve a couple of years ago, I was complaining to one of my girlfriends about how annoyed I was that I couldn’t make my new years resolution stick despite my new rule. It had worked once, but I couldn’t make it work a second time and I was desperate to start getting more sleep. On top of that, I knew that my sleep issue wasn’t hormonal or caused by children – it was a deliberate choice to go to bed late – a bad habit.
She suggested a book called ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg. The book itself is quite long, repetitive and academic BUT it makes a strong argument that humans are creatures of habit and if you want to change your life, you have to change your habits.
If you don’t have time to read it, here are my 3 key takeaways:
- Changing one habit will have an effect on other habits
- Habits are made up of stages called the Habit Loop
- Habits can’t be erased (which is why bad ones are hard to break!)
The Effect of Changing 1 Habit
Duhigg gives examples of people in his book who, by changing one bad habit (drinking too much) into a positive one (drinking less), were able to positively impact other aspects of their lives (weight loss, keeping a job).
Equally, he argues, if you start a bad habit (gambling or smoking) and are unable to change it, it can have a negative impact on other aspects of your life (like losing your house and your marriage or dying of lung cancer).
The Habit Loop
One of the greatest revelations of Duhigg’s writing was that of the habit loop which says that a habit is made up of 3 stages: a cue, a response and a reward.
Another well known author, James Clear, who wrote ‘Automic Habits’ added the a stage. His 4 stages look like this: cue, craving, response, reward.
Clear’s point was that a smoker doesn’t smoke a cigarette because they want to inject smoke into their lungs, they smoke because they crave way they feel after they have had a cigarette.
In Clear’s book, he gives the example of some common, every day habits we have formed in modern day life. I’ve copied and pasted one example that many of us know all to well:
- CUE = Your phone buzzes with a new text.
- CRAVING = You want to learn the contents of the message.
- RESPONSE = You grab your phone and read the text.
- REWARD = You satisfy your craving to read the message. Grabbing your phone becomes associated with your phone buzzing.
In order to change this habit, the phone owner has to acknowledge what is happening so they can change it. In this case, the best option is to find a way to break the habit. One option might be to make the cue invisible, which means putting the phone on silent.
Habits can’t be erased
Duhigg does a really good job explaining why habits stick. Basically, every time you do something, it leaves an impression in your brain (literally). When you do it again, you strengthen that impression. So the more you do something, the stronger the impression left in your brain.
Unfortunately, once the impression is made, it can’t be unmade. The more you do a bad habit, the deeper the impression. From Duhigg’s point of view, you’ll never erase a bad habit which is why it is important to create new ones and even more important to keep working on your new habit until it creates a stronger impression in your brain than the one you are trying to break.
FREE TECHPIXIES BAD HABIT BREAKER WORKSHEET
This is the first of a four part series we are releasing over the next few weeks on habits. If you’d like to go on this journey with us and start changing a bad habit you’ve had for a while, then download our FREE HABIT BREAKER WORKSHEET which will help identify the habit you want to change as well as work out your habit loop and track your progress towards breaking it.
We’d love it if you’d join us for an online discussion too! I’m LIVE on Facebook at 12pm on Tuesdays.
External Links which you might find useful: