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
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
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.
Cues kick off our habit routines, so figuring them out is
When it comes to narrowing down our cues, we have to watch
out for too much information. Distorting factors can make everything much more
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
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.
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:
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
That’s it, that is the routine right there. It’s not
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
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an
act, but a habit.”
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
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.”
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
“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too
heavy to be broken.”
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
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 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
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,
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
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