We have been discussing stories and beliefs and how they create a limited version of life, notably bringing misery and suffering.
One possibility to make changes in our lives is quoted by Thomas Asacker in “Business of Belief” book:
Pascal argued that by acting as if one believed, one would end up believing. Two centuries later, William James declared, “If you want a quality, act as if you already had it.” 1
Asacker makes his own suggestion as well:
“Change your behavior and your behavior will change your mind.” 2
Is it really that simple? How easy is it to change our beliefs? Is this a question of, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
Charles Duhigg provides some interesting explanations in his excellent book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” He believes that most of our behavior is habitual and unconscious. As we have stated in this blog earlier, in the mind's effort to deal with information overload, it creates effort-saving habits so it can avoid “overwhelm.”
So, what are habits? Duhigg reveals what habits are:
The choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day...” 3
Considerable research has been done on how habits are created and the cycle they take. Armed with that knowledge, theoretically we can arrest the cycle and then insert the changes we wish to make. The changes aren't easy or quick but they can be made, and understanding the habit loop is the first step:
“First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.” 4
Once established, habits rule our lives.
“They shape our lives far more than we realize - they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.” 5
Why are they so powerful?
“They create neurological cravings ... As we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious craving emerges in our brains that starts the habit loop spinning.” 6
The question, then, is how to create a new habit?
“... by putting together a cue, a routine, and reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop.” 7
The trick is to learn to recognize which cravings are causing which behaviors. Take, for example, a positive habit such as exercise. Exercising and working out creates health on many levels and also releases endorphins and other neurochemicals - the craving for which can be nurtured.
Only when your brain starts expecting the reward - craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment - will it become automatic ... The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.” 8
This is how it works for “bad” habits too - those which we know aren't good for us but which we seem to have trouble resisting - like not meditating daily or not following the elements of a holistic lifestyle.
How to make changes? The truth is that:
“... you can never truly extinguish bad habits. Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine... Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.” 9
So the work to be done is to list all the triggers, rewards, and cravings for the habit and find another routine which can bring the same reward.
Since STRESS is the 'elephant in the room' in modern life, learning other concise routines for coping with stress provides dramatic transformations. “Duhigg affirms that this is habit reversal training.” When the trigger starts the habit, a “competing response” is needed to stop the previous, familiar, “debilitating routine” (such as alcohol, smoking, etc.). By developing the competing response, it can begin to dominate the previous routine and sideline the undesired behavior.
“The truth is, the brain can be reprogrammed. You just have to be deliberate about it.” 10
TRY THIS OUT until the next blog posting:
*write down one existing habit you wish to change
*go through the habit loop and write down all the triggers you can think of
*precisely, what are the routines (actions) that follow?
*what are the rewards (what do you get out of it)?
And lastly, after looking at the above:
*what is it that you are REALLY craving?
There can be improvement in habits and discipline with focused awareness ... which leads to the final hint on transforming habits:
“Replacement habits only become durable new behaviors when they are accompanied by something else.” 11
In the next blog, we'll continue the discussion about that “something else.” (You guessed it - it has to do with “spirituality.”)
REFERENCES FOR FURTHER READING:
1. Tom Asacker, “The Business of Belief... How the World's Best Marketers, Designers, Salespeople, Coaches, Fundraisers, Educators, Entrepreneurs and Other Leaders Get Us to Believe” (E-book ISBN-13: 978-1-63002-576-2), pg 112.
2. Ibid., pg. 112.
3. Charles Duhigg, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” (Random House, New York, 2012, 2014), E-book location 145.
4. Ibid., location 420
5. Ibid., location 520.
6. Ibid., location 840.
7. Ibid., location 859.
8. Ibid., location 889.
9. Ibid., location 1050.
10. Ibid., location 1257.
11. Ibid., location 1362.