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Finding the Power in Habits.

Posted Jan 04 2013 5:23pm
I am reading this very interesting book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg . This book is pretty fascinating and is giving me much insight into how our minds develop habits. I highly recommend this book as it discusses exactly how habits are formed and how we can influence our habits to make substantial changes and gains in our lives, both personally and professionally.


Once we realize the fundamental habit forming and reinforcing cycle, we can alter it to form new habits.  Not that it is an easy task per sey - changing a habit takes time and dedication. We did not develop the habits overnight, we cannot change them overnight either.

I need to harness this power! Heck, we all need to harness this power! Think of the lifestyle changes we can make that will last until we purposefully change them again? Utopist thinking I know, but hey I got to start somewhere, right? ;-)

The habit cycle is addressed and broken down. What is the habit cycle?  Well, if you think of it it consists on three things always:
  1. The Trigger
  2. The Routine
  3. The Reward


So in the case of lab rats, the trigger may be the audible click of a door being opened into a maze where there is a pice of chocolate awaiting them at the end.  The routine is the mouse searching for the chocolate and finding it.  The reward is the chocolate.  The more this cycle plays out, the more it is ingrained into the rats' brains and the habit is born.  Click means go find chocolate and find it, then eat it. Click means chocolate. 

Further research into this habit cycle using primates, performing an action upon seeing a trigger, and the reward of their favorite juice has found that over time the reward will appear in the mind right after the trigger.  If done enough times, the brain assumes the reward is happening based on the trigger.  Take away the reward after performing the propoer routine and the brain cannot comprehend why it is not being rewarded.  The subject acts out.  Changing the habit can be confusing to our brain at times. 


I picked up this book and started reading it because I realized that the success in meeting my goals for this upcoming year, as I am sure the same applies to many of you, will require some fundamental changes of habits, but before I just went and did something I wanted to fully understand the science behind habits and what some best practices for changing them would be.

Have you ever gotten to that point where you could physically do something, however the thought of what will need to be done to achieve it is either out of reach at the moment or out of reach because we do not want to extend ourselves that far out of our comfort zones? Of course.  We all do.

So what if we remove those self limits? Great, limits are gone but what if the desire is just not there to do it? 

Like I have said to those who tell me that they could never possibly accomplish xyz: “Yes, you can. You just have to want to do it.” Success is linked to desire. If you want it bad enough you will want to work for it. The desire to achieve must be accompanied by the desire to make it happen within yourself.

Habit forming is hard work and yes even the bad habits.

In most realistic cases there is no real dire or catastrophic consequence to not attaining a goal. I do not think it is always as easy as saying the fear of failure is what stops most people from going for their dreams. Certainly there is some combination of a fear of failure, humiliation in front of others, disappointment in one’s self; however I think that a substantial source of the hesitation must come from the fear of change itself.  It must be our brain's reaction to trying to figure out something that it has never experienced before - there is no precendent, no prior habit formed.

Habits are comfortable and part of reaching for the unknown is becoming uncomfortable,  leaving us vulnerable and on high alert. Before we form a habit, our brains are analyzing constant inputs to determine the appropriate outputs. Once the habit is formed, the brain relaxes and cruises along. We like to cruise; it is in our very DNA.

I believe that no one who has attempted and succeeded at something that they arrive at the end an unchanged person, if not physically at least mentally. I have yet to meet someone who has gone for something they wanted so badly and at the end upon achieving their goal say “Yeah, totally no impact.”

How many times have you read a "success" story on some person and they set out to do a singular goal of maybe losing weight or becoming more physically fit, possibly running a 5k or just getting into a fitnees routine at the gym regularly?  There are a lot of success stories out there.  You are on teh blog of one of them.  

How often does that story end with them achieving the goal but not changing themselves along the way?

"Yeah, I lost 50 lbs this year.  I still eat the same foods I did and still exercise the same amount as before. The weight just somehow came off!"

I would venture to say not one.  Should you just so happen to find one I am sure that the success will be very short lived as the lack of new healthier habits will certainly mean that the old habits are alive and kicking. 


I have mentioned before that the act of completing an Ironman changed me in some way. In reality I changed myself and because of that I was able to complete the Ironman. I created the ironman success by crating habits that allowed for it to occur. My whole view on who I am, who I want to be, where I want to go and what I want to do has changed along the way.

These habits are still very new and not well ingrained I must admit.  I find myself slipping back into older habits and that is another reason I wanted to read more on the subject. 

What really is the power of a habit?  How long do we have them and how long does it take to override them?  Can they be forever changed?



I looked over my training plan for the Out Season which starts this upcoming Monday (lasting 14 weeks until April 14th) and I know already that if I do not get my tushy up and out the door to the gym in the morning, the opportunity for me to start missing workouts will arise nearly daily.  So I need to start developing good habits now, here in January, that will help me long term and hopefully for the rest of my life.

Mental and physical fatigue from a hard day of work, working late into the evening taking away precious hours from home and family, as well as all around loss of motivation all play part in my missed workouts and junk food eating ways. I am able to physically complete the workouts and physcially refrain from bad food choices, I do work right across the road from Lifetime Fitness afterall and I have ultimate choice over what I put into my body, however instead of pulling into the parking lot I would continue on home and possibly pull through Starbucks for something sugary and sweet and chocked full of calories that I will not be burning off any time soon.

Habits are a hellova thing. ;-)

I know that in order to get the sleep that I need and the life balance that I want for myself I will have to become that morning person. I will have to get into routine and put in some effort on the planning side.  That means that I will have to always be thinking about my actions and are they setting me up for developing that new healthier habit, or are they reinforcing the old habits that I am trying to override?

The first few steps are always the toughest right? Time to get tough!



If habits create our lives, then what lives are we creating for ourselves?

How about you, what life are you creating? Are there any habits that you are looking to change but have been either unwilling to or never thought about them until now?
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