Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Bringing Habits Into Our Awareness
"The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business" is a new book by Charles Duhigg. This video shows the author describing the "habit loop" of Cue-Routine-Reward with a personal example of a habit he wanted to change. The habit loop is covered much more extensively in the book at both the individual and group levels.
One of the things I found most fascinating from "The Power of Habit" was the research on how our brains can convert a sequence of actions into an automatic routine. One example given is the process of backing a car out of the driveway. When we're first learning to drive, this takes a great deal of concentration, but after a short period of time, we're hardly giving any thought to it at all.
Or consider your drive to work in the morning. You listen intently to the radio for today's news headlines, create a mental checklist for the workday ahead, and replay yesterday's board meeting in your head, all while simultaneously keeping your vehicle on the road, driving within a reasonable speed, avoiding the potholes and pedestrians, headed in the proper direction until you safely reach your company parking space. Most days, you hardly remember anything about the actual drive, yet your brain just completed an incredibly complex sequence of activities.
In coaching, we'd refer to that state of mind, when we're on autopilot, as being out of awareness. That's where habits live, out of our awareness. The first step to changing a habit is to become aware of it in the first place.
In his video (and the appendix of the book), Charles describes an undesirable state - being 8 pounds overweight, and gaining. He wants to lose weight, so he starts by reviewing what routines, or habits, are part of his day that could be considered for change. A thoughtful review like this is typical in a coaching engagement.
What I like about the habit loop is that once a routine is identified, the model can then be applied to populate the associated reward that the brain was craving, and then the cue that triggered the brain to begin that routine. This provides a tangible diagram, bringing the unseen into awareness where it can then be adjusted to drive the desired change. Again, this is part of the coaching engagement, to identify the rewards and the cues in order to take action.
As anyone who has tried to make a significant change can tell you, awareness of a habit is just step one. It takes well targeted action to move forward, with personal accountability, repetition, and often, support from others.