Habits and Change
Habits are just things we do. The thing is, it didn’t happen overnight. First, we developed a belief or attitude about that certain behavior or action and because we believed that to be beneficial in the moment, we continued to do it, even if we later found out that action may not be very healthy or beneficial to us. This becomes our personality. This is not who we are, but what we do? Why do we do this?
The primary purpose of the mind is to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. The mind will even tell us stories about things that we intuitively and honestly know is wrong, to be right to simply avoid pain. This doesn’t not have to be physical pain, but pain in the form of protecting the ego. Protecting the ego from embarrassment, from guilt, shame or anything that “attacks” our personality. Unfortunately, most of us become so identified with our personality that we cannot let go of habits that we have acquired over time. We refuse to disidentify with what we do so we might find out who we are. We do this consciously in some instances and subconsciously in other instances. In other words, we avoid pain to the protect the ego and build a barrier to stop us from accessing our higher self.
According to Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit, when we develop habits there is what he calls a habit loop. This habit loop consists of the cue, the routine and the reward. For example, I got off work (the cue), I go to the gym (the routine) and go eat a healthy meal with a feeling of accomplishment (the reward). That’s pretty harmless right? Now, let’s look at an example that might be a little more harmful. I got off work. I go to the gym. I go home and eat dinner. I always have a glass of wine or a beer with dinner and I earned it. After dinner, I’ll sit down to watch T.V and I’ll have a couple of pieces of chocolate and maybe another glass of wine. There is still a cue, a routine and a reward, however, the mindset is different. The personality has now played its role in the habit loop. Do that 4 nights a week and you’ll suddenly see this habit having a negative impact on your health or worse, keep at your current level of health.
So, what does it take to change a habit?
We often hear that a habit takes 21 days or 30 days of consistent and persistent action to become part of your personality. Whether this is true or not, the habit must be present in the long term (5 years) to be truly become a habit or part of your new personality. The problem of changing arises when we realize that changing or replacing a habit is going to take some work and may not be too pleasurable at the beginning. This means we must kill off an old part of ourselves and replace that old part of ourselves with a new part. This does not go down well with ego. Remember, the ego is trying to avoid pain! Changing our personality means there is something wrong with us. The thing we must realize is, our personality is not who we are. It is simply a set of beliefs, attitude, behaviors and actions. It is not our inner or higher self.
What I have found after reading the Power of Change (Charles Duhigg) and Small Move, Big Change (Caroline Arnold), is we first must be willing and open minded to change, we must be honest with ourselves that change is needed and then we must simply find the keystone habit that needs to be changed. By seeking and locating a keystone habit (an individual pattern that is unintentionally capable of triggering other habits in the lives of people) and changing that one keystone habit, it can have a domino effect on other habits. Something as simple as drinking water as your first liquid of the day instead of coffee could literally change your life as it will help you disidentify with the notion that “I can’t function without my coffee in the morning”. This disidentification changes your personality and can help you become a better version of yourself. If you can change one part of your personality that doesn’t fit your goals, why not others.