This week we’re talking about habits, specifically looking at some habits that help me stay productive and a few that don’t. We also discuss how to replace "bad" habits with ones that will really serve you in your daily life.
Productive Habits--and Those that Aren't
We’ve talked a lot about habits over the years on this podcast because I believe our habits determine the quality of our productivity and our life. In his fascinating book called The Power of Habit (the subject of episode 147 in our Productive Reading series), Charles Duhigg says:
“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.”
He cites a 2006 paper published by a researcher from Duke University that found that more than 40% of our daily actions are not actual decisions, but habits.
What’s a habit?
A habit is something we do automatically, without conscious thought--which shoe we tie first, which side of the bed we sleep on, where we put the milk in the fridge, the first thing we do when we wake up in the morning, the route we take to work and back. Duhigg notes the technical definition of a habit as “the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day.”
* Habits of action -- things we do (or avoid doing)
* Habits of thought -- unconscious thought patterns that either serve us or don’t
The dictionary defines a habit as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” The brain favors the familiar because habitual actions consume less energy (in the brain) than non-habits. So when we do something repeatedly for which we get that dopamine hit, the brain sees that as something important and creates strong neural pathways to support it. The brain doesn’t differentiate between things that help us and things that hurt us--it just recognizes repetition.
Productive Habits (habits that help me)
* Regular exercise. This habit serves me because it furthers my goal of being healthy as I age. For me, this is what I call an anchor habit and what Duhigg refers to as a keystone habit, which is one that serves as a foundation for other habits. When I exercise regularly, I also tend to drink more water and to eat better, because I don’t want to undo the benefits of the hard work. It’s also a habit I need to nurture intentionally because I don’t like to sweat or breathe hard or work that hard, so if it’s not habitual, it’s easy to skip. I try to keep the habit going, doing it daily and not allowing myself to miss more than one day. To develop the habit of exercise, I had to start small, bargaining with myself for just 5 minutes on the treadmill and developing the feeder habit of putting my workout clothes on as soon as I get up. Once that 5-minute workout became habitual, I started pushing myself to add a minute or two, then over time another minute or two, and so on. Once I’d established 30 minutes of walking in the morning as a habit, I started increasing the incline, then pushing myself to go a little faster for a few minutes. Now I go about 40-45 minutes a day at a moderate incline, mostly fast walking but increasing to a jog for 2-3 minutes at a time every 5 minutes.
* Automatically writing appointments and other commitments onto my calendar. This is something I’ve done my entire adult life and something that has made a huge difference for me in terms of consistently being where I’m supposed to be on time and prepared. Every time I schedule anything, it goes into my digital calendar.