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It's 5am and I'm awake before my alarm goes off. I roll out of bed and tip-toe down the stairs, being careful to avoid the creaky spot on the third step from the bottom. A yawn escapes as I quietly remove the coffee pot from Mr. Coffee's belly and simultaneously turn the grinder to '4'. While the grinder works its magic on my whole-bean coffee, I walk to the sink, fill the carafe with water and then softly pad back to the coffee pot to finish the task.
It's 5am. I'm not sure I could form a cohesive sentence at this point. But I can make a not-so-terrible cup of coffee without giving it much thought.
Because of habit.
"Change Your Habits, Change Your Life" is title of a book by Tom Corley about average people who became "self-made millionaires." I haven't read the book but the title has worked its way into my personal phraseology because it resonates with me so deeply.
When you think about it, we live the majority of our lives out of habit. How do you drive to work each day? When you get in the shower, what do you do first, second, and third? How do you load the dishwasher? How do you fold towels? Each of these things involves several steps and yet, if you're like me, you can complete each task while thinking about something else entirely.
Because of habit.
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that habits "emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to it's own devices, the brain will make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often." Which is why you can load the dishwasher while helping your ten-year-old with math homework.
Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash
A habit has three components: a Cue, a Routine, and a Reward. For example, Cue: dirty dishes in the sink, Routine: load the plates and bowls in the bottom rack, cups and plastics in the top rack, add soap, close the door and press 'start'. Reward: an empty sink (I can't be the only person who feels rewarded by an empty sink, right?). The more times you complete this loop, the more automatic it becomes - until eventually, the combination of the cue and the reward result in a craving and now you have a habit.
Duhigg continues, "When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit - unless you find new routines - the pattern will unfold automatically."
Wow. "...unless you deliberately fight a habit..."
I'm afraid there's even more power behind a habit than Duhigg outlines in his book. When it comes to food, there's a hormonal component that cements poor eating habits but we'll dig into that next week.
"We get it, Meg. Habits are powerful. More powerful than we thought. So powerful, in fact, that we should probably just quit trying, right?"
One of the most fascinating things about habits is that they're actually neural pathways that can be observed on an MRI! Using this information, scientists have learned that, while a habit can't be undone, it can be over-written. They can actually see physical evidence of an old habit being over-written by a new one. And that, my friend, is good news.
Your current habits don't have to dictate your ultimate destiny.
You absolutely have the ability to over-write those bad habits with good ones but trying to change EVERYTHING at once isn't the way to go. In fact, that's probably the worst thing you could do if you're just getting started.
Baby steps and accountability are your best friends.
Pick one thing and one person. One habit that you know isn't serving you and one person who can hold you accountable. For instance, you know you're not drinking enough water - for no reason in particular, it's just not part of your routine. What would happen if you were deliberate this week about drinking a glass of water every hour? What would happen, if you asked that person sitting across aisle at work to help you by checking in once or twice a day? How would things be different in a month if you committed to this tiny little change every day for the next thirty days?
One of my favorite things about coaching is helping people build their confidence by accumulating small wins along the way. I would love to help you over-write some of those old habits with new ones. Which habit are you going to start with? Email me and tell me about it!!
Next week: Let's talk about hormones!