How to improve your habits.

I’ve just finished reading this book: The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg and it is fascinating. A ridiculously huge proportion of what we do every day is dictated by habit or ingrained patterns of behaviour. And it’s very pertinent to relationships as well – so often I see couples who have got into unhelpful habits or patterns. It might be in how they interact or what they do (or don’t do) together. So I thought I’d share a little bit about what I have learned from reading the book, while encouraging anyone who’s interested to grab a copy. 

Firstly why did I read the book? Well funnily enough I read it because I want to get in the ‘habit’ of reading more non-fiction books and this seemed a good place to start. I figure there are so many very wise souls in the World who have written great books and I’d like to read more of them. I am not a believer in reinventing the wheel and often ask friends for advice. But I’m a bit hopeless at reading non-fiction books. People will rave about a book, it sounds fascinating, I buy it (often on my kindle), maybe start reading and then get distracted by another new book and then forget about it. Or worse, and more likely, get distracted by my iPhone / Social Media addiction. Sadly my Kindle is a graveyard of abandoned, forgotten, no doubt excellent, books. But this time I have succeeded and finished the book – whoop whoop. Big pat on the back for me. And partly I finished it by using some of the principles that Charles talks about in the book. 

Habits work like this:

Cue > Routine > Reward

For example, the cue might be ‘I’ve just finished a coaching session and have some free time until my next one’. The routine usually will include picking up my phone to see if I need to respond to any messages / emails and then often (unconsciously and without actually making a decision about it) going on social media to see what’s going on. Here the cue might also be ‘feeling bored or filling a gap until my next appointment’. And the reward is ‘doing something interesting’.

One thing I did differently with this book was to buy a hard copy. This meant that I could leave it lying around and it would catch my eye more often so I’d be more likely to pick it up during those natural breaks in my day. In effect I engineered a new ‘cue’. 

The thing with habits is they are mostly unconscious but they can be changed. To do so we have to start with awareness of what the habit or pattern is. Also the impact of it and a conscious desire to want to change it. An aspect I use in coaching a lot – to help clients see what their patterns are, get clear on whether they are helpful or not, and get commitment that they want to change. 

Another great insight from the book is that to change a habit you have to recognise the cue and also the reward. Once you get clear on the reward that you are unconsciously aiming for you can change the routine to get that reward in a more positive way. The cue will often still be there, and the reward might not change, but we can insert a new routine. 

To look at a couple we could have the following scenario.

Unhelpful habit (from a relationship point of view):

Cue: It’s 8pm, we’ve had dinner and we’re sitting on the sofa

Routine: one or both get out a smartphone or tablet and starts surfing the net

Reward: distraction, relaxation etc 

We can improve on this habit by changing the routine to one where the couple agree not to have gadgets in the living room. Or they might agree to spend time chatting first. The cue is still that moment when dinner is done or kids are in bed and we’re on the sofa. The reward is added to in that it can still be relaxing but now it might help with connection too. And we are changing the routine to something more fulfilling. 

And now to find my next book! Thanks for reading, Sue X

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