How Powerful Are Your Habits and Routines?

Habits-and-RoutinesHow much power do you have over your own habits and routines? Most of the choices we make each day feel like well-considered decisions. In reality, ingrained habits drive us to act.

Research has shown that the average person has approximately 40,000 thoughts per day, but 95%  are the same ones experienced the day before. As much as 45% of our daily actions are based on habits and routines, not newly formed decisions. I wrote about this in my previous post here.

Our habits and routines—what we say and do, and how we organize our thoughts, social life and work— have an enormous impact on our health, productivity, financial security and happiness. Habits are so powerful they can be seemingly impossible to break when they no longer work. Many experts say you can’t actually eliminate a habit because it is formed by neural connections in the brain. But you can change your habit by breaking a previous pattern of response and by replacing it with a better response.

I’ve seen many people do this in my coaching practice. Habits are powerful, but then so are people once they make up their minds to change.

In the last two decades, scientists have begun to understand how habits are formed, how they work and, more importantly, how we can change them. As New York Times staff writer Charles Duhigg reveals in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House, 2012):

  1. Before Pepsodent entered the market in the early 20th century, only 7% of Americans had a tube of toothpaste in their medicine chests. A decade later, the number had jumped to 65%, thanks to Claude Hopkins’ legendary advertising campaigns. The tooth brushing habit was firmly established.
  2. Procter & Gamble turned a spray called Febreze into a billion-dollar brand by taking advantage of consumers’ habitual urge to “breathe happy” and eliminate odors.
  3. Alcoholics Anonymous reforms lives and enables people to live free from powerful addictions by redirecting self-destructive habits into constructive routines.
  4. By changing one small keystone habit (like safety precautions or tracking and measuring), individuals and companies can influence everyday routines, leading to widespread results.

Habits emerge because the brain is constantly seeking ways to conserve energy. It looks for a cue that becomes the trigger for a habitual response. We are then rewarded with a blast of the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter dopamine. This biochemical and neurological reaction sets up a habit loop: See cue, react, repeat.  Or, as Duhigg shows us:

Cue => Routine => Reward

Habits and routines are so powerful that even when there’s no longer a reward we keep doing the same things. Worse, when there’s a negative reward, we still keep going back to the well.

Can you think of anything like this in your own life? Golf comes to mind for me; how about you? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me here and on LinkedIn.

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