Habits Part 3: Rewards

Just a reminder, this is mostly from The Power of Habit by Charles Durhigg. It’s worth a read or listen.

We all have reasons for the things we do.

We may not understand them sometimes, but no one is capable of doing something for no reason. There has to be a motivating factor to prompt action.

I’ve had people make weird noises or stand up and wave their arms when I’ve said this to prove they can do things for no reason. Awesome, except that the motivating factor was to prove me wrong, so they still had a “valid” reason, these actions were not senseless.

Stupid, but not senseless.

When we are looking at our habits, we next need to see how the reward we are getting is meeting a craving of some kind. Cravings are easy to see once we have found them, but hard to find at first.

We are essentially hypothesis testing. You want to try something new and see if it meets the craving. Durhigg recommends writing three words that come it mind when you change the routine to see what is going on internally. This is especially helpful if you are having trouble pinning down exactly why you move into routine.

So, looking at the tendency I had to browse Reddit while writing my blog.

I tried to switch it up whenever the urge to stop writing hit instead of jumping to open my regular subreddits.

I tried doing jumping jacks and mountain climbers, I read for a minute, walked around, just tried to breathe, and opened other sites. I found that opening another site and clicking open a bunch of news stories fulfilled the same craving the best, and that reading something short helped as well.

Essentially, I was craving something new, I needed that little dopamine trigger that we have all become so accustomed to thanks to our phones and alerts and the ever-changing, ever-wonderful internet.

I was even able to pin down that the urge hit every time I started a new paragraph, which fits the mold of our society – every time there is a transition of some sort or lull in anything we grab our phones. We will look at how to be mindful of these urges and what to do with them on Monday.

For today, try to test out different rewards for your routine. If you eat a cookie after dinner, try an apple, go for a walk or give yourself 30 minutes of uninterrupted time with Netflix. If you spend too much time on Facebook or Instagram, try calling a friend, switching to a different website or going for a walk.

I like walks.

Have a great day.

Habits Part 2: Cues

Cues kick off our habit routines, so figuring them out is very important. 

When it comes to narrowing down our cues, we have to watch out for too much information. Distorting factors can make everything much more difficult.

According to Charles Durhigg, most habitual cues fit into 1 of 5 categories: location, time, emotional state, other people and the immediately preceding action.

Essentially, you want to ask yourself 5 questions:

Where are you?

What time is it?

What is your emotional state?

Who else is around?

What action preceded the urge?

Quitting smoking was one of the harder things I had to do, and I can see where applying these questions retroactively would have made it easier. They wouldn’t have had simple, one-word answers, but it would have helped me see some places of vulnerability.

Places like bars, my backyard and my car were triggers. First thing in the morning, the evening and after meals were almost guaranteed to lead to me smoking. Stress, anxiety, sadness or excitement were problematic emotional states, as was being around other people who smoked. As mentioned, things like meals preceded smoking, but so did alcohol and any sort of transition.

Without fully recognizing it, being aware of the answers to these questions allowed me to take a change brought about by mindfulness and make it permanent by being conscious of my weak spots and the cues that would make it harder to stay cigarette-free.

Cues are everything.

By being intentional with them, you can break bad habits as well as build new ones.

What would happen if a commercial break was your cue to do a bunch of jumping jacks or drink some water?

What if a pause in the conversation or your lunch mate going to the bathroom was a cue to be silent and mindful for a few minutes instead of grabbing your phone?

Investigate the cues that lead to the habits you’d like to break, see how they instigate your routine.

Set up cues for healthy habits you would like to have.

Then, take over the world.

The Habit Loop

This series on habits is drawn primarily from The Power of Habit by Charles Durhigg, which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about why we do what we do, and how this benefits and harms us. It is also a fascinating look at how advertisers and other entities exploit this to sell us things. Some of it is infuriating, but it is all interesting.

A primary aspect of this book concerns what Durhigg calls “The Habit Loop”, which simultaneously creates and reinforces our habits.

It goes like this:

Habit Loop

Look at my multimedia expertise.

So we have whatever it is that triggers our habit, the routine it prompts us to follow, and the perceived reward we get from it all. The important thing for us to look at today is the routine, which is just whatever it is you are doing.

I recently applied this to jumping online and looking at the various subreddits I like while in the middle of writing this blog every morning. My routine was to write for a while, then open my browser, open one of my subreddits, and click open a million posts in a million different tabs. I would click through the posts, closing them one at a time, and then return to writing until I did the same thing again, only with a different subreddit this time.

That’s it, that is the routine right there. It’s not complicated.

But these routines are everything.

These are the hidden programs that run our lives and dictate what our existence looks like. These are our go-to behaviors, and, when unexamined, our default self-desructions.

My looking at my subreddits doesn’t really hurt anything. None of them are harmful or overly negative. But, they do waste a lot of time. I found that by shifting my habit in regard to them, I saved between 20-35 minutes every morning on this blog. That’s a lot of time in my life that was going to looking at pictures of cats and memes.

So, to begin our look at habits, identify the routine of something you want to change. It can be anything that has become a habit that you would rather do without. 

What is it you are doing?

What are the steps involved?

Take some time today to notice what goes into the routine of the habit you are seeking to change. 

We’ll spend the next couple of days looking at how these things play out, how to identify cues and what we can do to shift our habits to something healthier.

Habits, Habits, Habits

All sorts of quotes today.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Will Durant

We don’t like to think about the fact that we are really little more than what we do, and what we do is little more than our habits.

I’m not talking about the things we do in the sense of just your job and what you accomplish with your life, we are certainly more than that. I mean everything we do – our actions, our inactions, our thoughts, our beliefs, our attitudes. How we treat people.  These are all habits.

“We are the sum of our actions, and therefore our habits make all the difference.”


Think about all the habits you have.

What you do when you wake up, how you spend your day.

What a time log of your life would tell you. 

What do your habits say about how you value your time? About how you value the people around you?

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

Jim Ryun

What are your habits of thought?

We can very easily develop the habits of cynicism or sarcasm, these are both easy and convenient responses to a world that exists beyond our control and feels very scary sometimes. Do you see the positive in people and things or not?

“Sow an act and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.”

Charles Reade

Habits are everything.

What we do on a daily and hourly and minute-by-minute basis will have a tremendous impact on our lives and on the lives of everyone who is fortunate or unfortunate enough to be tied to us. Good habits make life pretty easy, and they set us up for success, even when things start to go wrong. Our habits are what we turn to in times of chaos, and they can make things better or worse.

“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

Warren Buffett

Make note of your habits today.

There are the ones that are easy to see, like swearing a lot, smoking, exercising, watching television at certain times, eating at certain times.

There are the more subtle ones, like assuming the worst when seeing a certain person or expecting everything to go wrong.

Pick something you would like to change.

We will look at a much-too-brief summary of the way to change these things from The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg starting tomorrow, and continuing as long as it needs to .

Maybe it will be useful. 

Mindfulness and Opinions

We rarely experience the world as it really is.

Maybe we never experience the world as it really is.

Instead, we live in a constant engagement with our shaped perceptions, which in turn causes us to live in our opinions on things.

Think of all the things you have an opinion on.

Music, movies, the roads, the weather, what kind of house or apartment you have, your car, how you neighbor’s place looks, your spouse, your kids, daylight savings time. That’s all just scratching the surface. 

Now, think of how much impact your opinion has on any of these things.

I have never seen the weather change because of someone’s opinion on it, or a movie get better or a new house magically appear.

And that’s the problem with opinions: they only change us, not reality.

It doesn’t even matter if you opinion is valid or not, and, chances are, your opinion is nowhere near as airtight as you think it is. Most of what we like and don’t like is conditioned in us and based on familiarity rather than facts. I actually like the Minions movie now that I have seen it a dozen or so times. Radio works the same way. So do ads and commercials.

Republican or Democrat, Capitalist or Socialist, Belieber or Metalhead, Cowboy or Eagle fan, none of this is real and none of it matters. All sides could produce volumes of evidence as to why their side is best and the other side is terrible and they would believe it to be unimpeachable and of the highest integrity.

All just opinions.

There are a few benefits to challenging our opinions, like being less annoying to others.

I have been known to be a little opinionated in my less-than-best moments, and it hasn’t ever made me a friend. It has only served to put me in opposition to others and to try to dominate conversations. I still have opinions.  Lots and lots of them. But I try to remember they are just opinions, and that they are irrelevant.

More than this, our opinions feed our egos.

They are born of us thinking we know better than others, and they maintain their existence on that same belief. Every time we assert our opinion we are saying we are right, we know best. We are, by necessity, saying someone else is wrong. We are feeding this idea that we are smarter or a better judge of quality than other people.

Lastly, and most importantly (in my opinion) they keep us from engaging what is.

We cannot accept things as they are if we are busy opinionating on them, and we will always be in a state of making comparisons on a reality that exists independently of and supersedes us.

Today, ask yourself what good your opinions are doing you.

Ask yourself if they are based on truth, or familiarity and personal preference.

Ask if they are worth stating at all.

Ask yourself why you believe them.

See if this opens up some room to accept things as they are, and to experience the present moment without judgment.

Then again, this is all just the opinion of some idiot with a blog.

I am not sure I even buy into it.