Last summer I read an awesome book on habits called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I loved this book because I like books that go into the science behind why we do what we do as humans and how we can influence it. The main idea in this book is The Habit Loop. The Habit Loop is how habits are made. You first have a cue that makes you start the loop, then the routine (the “habit”), then some sort of reward. Habit loops are why we don’t have to think about how to brush our teeth, drive a car, or tie our shoes. The cool thing is our brains set up these habit loops all on their own. The bad news is that our brain doesn’t know if it’s setting up a bad habit loop or a good one.
When you understand what’s really happening in your brain when it comes to habits, you can make intentional changes to affect the results you’re getting. So if we want to change a habit, we identify the cue and reward, and we change the routine. So say you have a habit if eating cookies late at night. The cue is “it’s late at night.” “I want to eat cookies” is the routine. The reward is the sweetness and deliciousness of cookies! So we replace our cookies with sugar snap peas. When it get’s late, we go grab the sugar snap peas where the cookies used to be. The little bit of sweet can help feed the reward center. Soon, your brain will be letting you know when it’s sugar snap pea time instead of cookie time!
“The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.”
― Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
If you want to form a new habit, here’s what Duhigg calls “THE FRAMEWORK” for doing that : “• Identify the routine • Experiment with rewards • Isolate the cue • Have a plan” :
1. Identify and be consistent in the routine
What do you want to do? Start running? Start reading more? At the start at least, do it at the same time and make it a time you can always do it. Or go to the same place everyday or just have “a place” where you always go. (Will you run/read everyday? Every other day? Where will you go?) Be consistent.
2. Identify experiment with the reward
The reward is what will keep our brains wanting more so make sure you know what it is. Maybe with reading it’s making it to the next chapter. With running, maybe it’s the endorphin release or feeling better. See which works best and makes you want to keep coming back 🙂
3. Isolate the cue
Want to start running in the morning? Put your running shoes by your bed and put them on first thing.
Want to read more? Start listening to audiobooks in the car. That way every time you get in the car, your brain will think it’s reading time.
4. Have a plan
Knowing all these things isn’t enough. Repeating the loop consistently over time is where real change will occur. Have a plan and be consistent.
“Champions don’t do extraordinary things,” [Tony] Dungy would explain. “They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.”
― Charles Duhigg, The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business
I use a habit loop to make sure I’m creatively fresh. Before I go to a shoot, I do something similar as a cue every time to let my brain know what’s about to happen. It usually looks like this:
1. Stop looking at social media 2 days before.
2. Do something intentional the day before (Hiking, movies, hanging out with friends)
3. Listen to music/podcasts on the morning of the shoot to intentionally feed my brain. (One of these podcasts usually :))
Those are the cues. The routine is going to the shoot and shooting. The reward is making work that I’m proud of. I get my brain ready so that it knows what’s coming and it gets sucked back into that habit loop over and over. I truly believe that creativity is less about knowing exactly what to make and more about intentionally preparing your brain for what comes next. So telling our brains what to latch on to, what’s important, is essential and the habit loop provides us a framework to do that.
If you interested in the reading more on habits, you can find this book here:
Remember this: Growth is not automatic. It takes intentional daily decisions to be the person you want to be.
Yes it’s true that our brains form habits all on their own. We don’t have to think to brush our teeth or put a car in reverse. (Awesome. Thanks brain!) But if our brains can’t decide if a habit is good or bad, we have to decide. We have to decide if we need to change it or not. They form automatically but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it 🙂