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"Change your Habits, Change your Life."

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

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..."