The Power of Habits

This morning I read an interesting article by Margaret Greenberg and Senia Maymin called “Habits Can Beat Goals for Improving Performance“. This got me thinking about the habits that I am developing on my way to being thinner (shrinking) and a millionaire (growing).

Of course what originally caught my eye in the article was the picture of me… or was it Arnold Schwarzenegger?

But seriously…
Here are some great points about Timing and Environment in the article …
Habits = Less Thinking, Less Stress
Wood and two other colleagues studied habits in everyday life and found that people who perform habits use less of their conscious thinking and have less stress when engaging in the habit compared to those who engage in a conscious, deliberate goal. Using exercise as an example this means that people who view exercise as a habit do so automatically – they don’t even really think about it; they “Just Do It” as Nike proclaims.
Wood and her colleague David Neal at Duke University have identified a theory of habit-goal interface. They propose three principles:

  1. Habits respond to environmental cues (same place, same time)
  2. Habits arise when people use a particular behavior to pursue a goal, and habits will remain even after people stop having that goal as a pursuit (the habit of running every morning can aim towards the goal of losing weight; running will be habitual even when the ideal weight is reached)
  3. Habits do not change to meet current goals; they remain linked to the environment in which they were created (running outside in the summer may not be transferable to running inside in the winter)
My (relatively) new habits…
I’ve been using the Time/Place Habit* (TPH*) theory to boost the likelihood that I will be consistent with my workout schedule. Currently, the first thing I do each morning when I roll out of bed is to check my computer while I begin putting on my workout clothes. Depending on how inspired I am by the challenges presented to me via email and how long it takes to finish them, I usually find a good place to take a break after an hour or so and go out for a run. So far, this habit has worked pretty well… it has been about 6 weeks and I am exercising at least 5 days a week on a regular basis.

* I needed my acronym fix today so I created “TPH” !

Since I work in my home office, I am able to “hit the kitchen” for healthy food more easily than “swinging by McDonalds” on the way to work. I can definitely see that my location (home) is helping me nail down my habit of eating better. (And I will need to be aware of the challenges when I leave the house for an early AM appointment.)
Mental & Emotional Simplicity…
The best part of the TPH Theory is that I don’t even have to think about exercise or eating healthy anymore. Actually, I should rephrase that… I have much less to think about since I’ve committed to exercising and eating healthy. It is like other habits… I just do it (and I don’t waste time thinking about (or stressing over) whether “I feel like it” or “is it too cold”).
Speaking of cold…
The “environment” here in Connecticut (the “Place” in the Time/Place Habit theory) is starting to get colder. I am finding that I do have to think about what to wear on my runs … but thanks to Senia & Margaret’s article, I know that I will continue to develop / evolve my “exercise habit” as I get “in the groove” for the Fall / Winter and adapt to my changing environment.
Special Thanks…
to Margaret and Senia for their article. Look for their upcoming book “Profit from the Positive: What Every Business Leader Needs to Know From the New Science of Positive Psychology”.
d.Mark “Dave” Wheeler
My other [mostly business] sites include… (art / notecards / blog)
Original (Source) Images:
Arnold Schwarzenegger Abs courtesy of d_vdm
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