For most of us, the current disruptions have metaphorically thrown the concepts of work and life into a blender. These poorly prepared ingredients are noisily churning, being forced together, perhaps spilling over the top. People are working where they live, living where they work, spaces are blurred, routines are disrupted. Previously well-defined schedules are disrupted and unstable.
One of the hidden costs of this are our habits. The countless, mindless decisions we all make each day that reinforce who we are and what we do. Charles Duhigg’s 2012 book, The Power of Habit, presented the perhaps surprising premise that approximately 85% of our behaviour is driven by habits.
To better understand how this isolation (or any significant disruption to your normal) impacts habits, we need to look a little deeper at how habits actually work.
Charles simply breaks habits down to 3 key components; Cue -> Routine -> Reward.
The cues often go totally unnoticed, but they are critically important. They may be the time of day, regular events, particular people or even emotions. Once triggered, your brain will fast-forward to the expected reward, priming dopamine receptors in your brain for the expected pleasure. This priming motivates you to execute the routine (habit) known to produce that reward.
Many people are surprised by how much their habits are impacted by seemingly small changes to their routines. You can now see how the current, disrupted lifestyles are likely to be messing with the thousands of daily cues that typically trigger the majority of our actions. Without those, we are like unguided missiles…
So, if you’re struggling to maintain some of your desired routines, BJ Fogg has one deceptively simple tip; Identify something that you still manage to regularly do – e.g. shower, brush your teeth, morning coffee – then attach the new habit immediately after it. Now you can rely on a current routine as the cue for the new behaviour. Clever.
Habits are powerful, and yet fragile. Dissecting them can be quite enlightening. When you take the time to look closely at the patterns associated with your habits you might be very surprised by what actually drives some of your behaviours.
If you want to dig deeper into habit there are many great resources out there by authors such as Charles Duhigg, Michelle Segar, and B.J. Fogg.