Charles Duhigg of the New York Times recently wrote on the science of habit in humans. He writes:
“Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we eat, how we spend our evenings, and how often we exercise have enormous impacts.”
While some may take this to mean there is a dubious lack of free will involved in our day-to-day lives, this is not the case. It is that habit is easier than “well-considered decision making.” While the fact that habits are easy can be a double-edged sword a conscious, mindful individual can use this to their advantage.
Duhigg explains that all habits are created in the same way, that we must “establish the right cues and rewards.” Duhigg sites a New Mexico State University study that looked at individuals who exercised at least three times a week.
What the study finds is very interesting. For many of the study’s participants their exercise routine began as a caprice, orr was generated from a sudden surplus of free time or a reaction to unexpected stress. What was it that reinforced their whim into habit? Cue and reward.
“If you want to start running each morning, it’s essential that you choose a simple cue (like always lacing up your sneakers before breakfast or always going for a run at the same time of day) and a clear reward (like a sense of accomplishment from recording your miles, or the endorphin rush you get from a jog). But countless studies have shown that, at first, the rewards inherent in exercise aren’t enough.
So to teach your brain to associate exercise with a reward, you need to give yourself something you really enjoy — like a small piece of chocolate — after your workout.
Eventually, your brain will start expecting the reward inherent in exercise (“It’s 5 o’clock. Three miles down! Endorphin rush!”), and you won’t need the chocolate anymore. In fact, you won’t even want it. But until your neurology learns to enjoy those endorphins and the other rewards inherent in exercise, you need to jump-start the process.”
Cues and rewards can be anything and applied to any activity you wish to become a positive habit. If one is trying to learn to play the piano, learn a new language or be more vigilant about reading the news you must create a cue and reward. Listening to your favorite piano piece every evening after dinner, then allowing yourself to watch your favorite mindless sit com after practicing the piano could be one way to reinforce the positive habit of practicing the piano.
What habits will you change or create with this information?