Harnessing the Habitual

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – For about a week I drove a rental car and it was pretty fancy. One of the many groovy features of this rental was an alert when I drifted out of my lane, whether over the center line or the white line edge.

What was interesting to me is that in apparently my standard everyday drive to work, I clearly had established a habitual way of driving, because every day I was alerted by the incessant beeping in the same two places. Every day I drifted over the white line on the same two curves. 

Two things are compelling here about this discovery of mine. The first is that, clearly, a loud beeping noise is not enough of a deterrent for me to change my behaviour. And secondly, my 43-kilometer drive to work is so ingrained that I drive in exactly the same manner around turns each and every time. All of this gets me thinking about what else I do in exactly the same way, what other habits I have formed.

Last week I read a great book called “Tiny Habits” by BJ Fogg. He has great suggestions for how to change up your routines [in areas you want to improve] by breaking things down into the tiniest actions and then where you can coupling those new actions with well-worn neural pathways. So, for instance, to get in better shape he challenged himself to do one push-up every time he brushed his teeth. One push-up was tiny but started a new habit that he built on.  

Fogg’s book was a good reminder about how so much of our day is an act of autopilot. The author argues that change is very hard, so start small and be sure to celebrate big when you make a change. I guess the trick here is to make sure that the habit is one you really want to change; I am not really bothered by the lane drift on the turns issue, but I could start working on better health with the pushups challenge. I just need to find the right instant reward, since probably a celebration pie negates the initial goal of the habit process.

Change is hard, but if you just stay in your own lane and make tiny changes that you can sustain, you will get to a positive change of your choosing.

Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

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