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Writer's Answer

I was fascinated by Charles Duhigg's's article in last Sunday’sNew York Times,Warning: Habits May Be Good For You. In particular, I was struck by this observation:

"[S]tudies revealed that as much as 45 percent of what we do every day is habitual — that is, performed almost without thinking in the same location or at the same time each day, usually because of subtle cues. For example, the urge to check e-mail or to grab a cookie is likely a habit with a specific prompt. Researchers found that most cues fall into four broad categories: a specific location or time of day, a certain series of actions, particular moods, or the company of specific people."

These findings seem hugely interesting, because much of what I’m doing with my Happiness Project is to change my habits and my automatic responses. I’ve been thinking about whether there’s a way for me to apply that information to my own habits.

One of my worst habits is hair-twisting. I twist my hair constantly, and what’s worse, I break it off (that’s the fun part for me). If you look carefully at the hair on the left side of my head, you can see a line. I twist my hair when I’m reading, thinking, sitting, and waiting in line. I do it when I’m feeling peaceful and serene, or anxious, or tired. It’s hard for me to see how I could use this new information to break that habit, because it's such a ubiquitous behavior. Also, if I'm honest with myself, I don’t reallywantto break myself of the habit. (Hair-twisters, are you with me?) So I don't have the will to make the change.

But I am going to try applying this information to my habit of stopping in the kitchen each time I walk through my front door. After dumping my stuff, I always head to the fridge or a cabinet for a little smackerel of something, even if I’m not hungry—without even consciously deciding to get a snack.

This seems like a straightforward habit that I could break, by training myself to run through a different pattern whenever I come home. I need to think about what I'd like my new habit to be.

Does anyone have any good tips or success stories about breaking bad habits? Or adopting new ones?


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