Why we do what we do.
Hi from Sophie.
What makes someone who is unfit start to exercise regularly?
Or someone who has battled weight gain start to lose weight?
Or someone who has struggled become more productive and successful in their personal and professional lives?
It's our habits. Those automatic, subconscious behaviours we all exhibit each day and night .. which drive the choices that we make.
Think about it.
How often do you get home from a busy day and before you know it, you are pouring your first glass of wine while you cook dinner, without making a decision whether you really wanted that drink or not.
Or sitting on the couch after dinner and when you look down, the packet of chocolates or sweet treats in your lap is half empty.
Do we constantly make conscious decisions to behave the way we do?
Mostly not, instead it's our automatic habits that kick in, according to American journalist and writer Charles Duhigg.
His investigation of science of habits describes the 'cue ..routine.. reward loop' that underpins both good and bad habits.
Think about a simple daily ritual like brushing your teeth.
It's an action that we all do, but as Duhigg explains in his book, the Power of Habit, brushing your teeth was a new habit that US marketing guru Claude Hopkins developed through an advertising campaign for a new toothpaste.
First, he created a trigger that would get people thinking about their teeth, by focusing on the harmless film on your teeth.
Hopkins' campaign was "Note how many pretty smiles are everywhere. Why would any woman have dingy film on her teeth. Pepsodent removes the film."
What that did was trigger people to run their tongues over their teeth and feel the harmless film on their own teeth.
The routine was to brush their teeth and the reward was feel fresh and beautiful.
Duhigg says the campaign turned a dud product into one of the top-selling goods in the world.
"It remained America's best selling toothpaste for more than thirty years," he said.
So how can we all use this scientific knowledge to change our own behaviours and I still good habits?
Think about the Cue, Routine, Reward loop.
If your goal is to exercise when you wake up, the cue would be having your gym gear out where you can see it.
It acts as a prompt for you to think 'yep I'm going for a run/walk or to work out.'
Your routine would be to exercise as soon as you wake up.
And the reward would be an after work-out coffee or smoothie.
This pattern is rooted in neuroscience.
As Duhigg describes, anticipating the reward creates a craving in your brain to keep you working through the routine to get the reward at the end.
You need belief!
There's one more important ingredient, to using the science of habits to change our behaviour, according to the research.
You need belief that you can change.
"For habits to change people must believe that change is feasible," Charles Duhigg said.
And for habits to stay changed, you need belief that you can act differently to the way you have acted in the past.
Being part of a group and the support that comes from others who are battling to make similar changes, can be a powerful motivator.
Witness the popularity of programs like 'Alcoholics Anonymous' or 'Weight Watchers' where support and the belief that change is possible, is central to the philosophy of the group.
Try this exercise:
Finish this sentence:
From tomorrow, I am going to:
What visual cue can you put in place to prompt you to do this?
What new routine can you develop?
What immediate reward can you have, that you will develop a craving for, to keep you on track?
Where can I find others who have the same goal who can support me to help me stick to my new habit?
Give it a go and let me know how you get on :)
Whether it's eating more nourishing food, learning to unplug and destress, or breaking addictions to alcohol, we all know the benefits that await from making positive changes.
I wrote about it in my book, Live a Longer Life, where I analysed what medical research has discovered about the best ways to boost our health and wellbeing.
We know we can change, so why not use neuroscience and the tricks of advertising to help us along the way.
Until next time.
By Sophie Scott
"Accepting and celebrating your true self is not easy. It is a journey that few expect or anticipate, and a journey that nobody should have to experience alone. For those who are lucky enough to find self-confidence and achieve self-acceptance, it's the most important journey you can take."
These words were from my 19 year old son Billy, writing about something no young person should ever have to experience.
The day after Christmas, my son got an emergency call to go to the intensive care unit at our local hospital.
His best friend Cooper was clinging to life, after a drowning accident.
The details about what happened were sketchy.
All we knew was that while on holidays, he had been found in a hotel swimming pool in Fiji, underwater for several minutes before he was revived and flown back to Australia.
A brilliant dancer, Cooper had been living with our family in the weeks before Christmas, working part time in my husband’s café.
I had enrolled him to start a university preparation course next year.
Billy and I both began shaking when we got the phone call.
I didn't know how to prepare my son for something like this.
There is no guide book. There are no words to say.
My own feelings were swept aside in an instant.
"You are all so precious to us. You have no idea,” I said hugging my children and my husband's children.
As we sat by Cooper's bedside with his family, we caressed his beautiful face, his tanned skin.
His eyes were shut but we talked to him, lovingly as though he was right there with us.
Our tears splashed over his face, as the ICU nurses quietly did what they need to do.
They were comforting, discreet and respectful.
We held the beautiful boy's hands and ran our fingers through his perfect hair.
There was so much love in this room for that child.
If love alone was enough, his eyes would spring open and he would breathe on his own again.
As a parent, our job is to keep our kids safe, to wrap them with love and say I will love and protect you, no matter what, so they feel connected and like they belong.
That's what Cooper's family had done.
When trauma happens, something innate happens.
I go into organiser mode, so Cooper's devastated mother can focus on being with her son.
I get a second opinion, call my physician friends for advice, and make a contact list of everyone gathered by his bedside.
I gently put my hands on the small of Cooper's partner's back to support him, while my family and friends do the same for me.
There are no words of comfort. Nothing anyone can say or do to soften this blow.
We all know this sleeping boy will never wake up.
We will never see him dance again, or hear his laugh or feel his spirit and energy.
The doctors and nurses leave us so my son and I can say goodbye, then we let Cooper's last moments be with his loving family and partner.
In his short life, Cooper taught us what it means to be authentic and the importance of accepting who you are.
Billy wrote: "Cooper never struggled to accept and celebrate his true self, a gift that would change my life forever.
Without Cooper's confidence, charisma and infectious energy, my adolescence and adult life would have been laden with anxiety and struggle.
Cooper taught me that normality is subjective, and that sexuality is something that should be embraced, celebrated and never hidden. For that, Cooper, I am eternally grateful.
Not only have you changed my life forever, but even in your absence, organ transplants are currently underway that will save the lives of a number of young adults.
Your legacy will live on. I love you so much my darling. French champagne won't ever be the same without you . Rest peacefully my angel."
I have written a lot about living an authentic life, a life of meaning.
But this is the purest example I have ever seen.
Cooper gave us so many gifts.
But his most important legacy was teaching my son to be brave and true to himself.
Cooper lived his life for his passions, giving his all to dance and never apologising for who he was, and how he chose to live his life and who he loved.
At his memorial, we heard how as a toddler, he dressed up in bright costumes, and sparkly dresses.
Aged just seven years old, he grew his hair long and wore it however he liked, sometimes with a red sequinned hairband, given as a birthday gift by a girl at school.
He told his family 'I will not conform to society and get my hair cut.'
Maya Angelou wrote that "when we are gone, they won't remember what you said or what you did. They will remember how you made them feel."
Cooper made my son feel loved and accepted.
That's all any parent wants for their child.
And in losing him, he has taught me the fragility of the world and how everything can change in an instant.
Tonight and every night, I will hold my own babies closer and never let them go.
Sophie Scott is the medical reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Her blog on health is at www.sophiescott.com.au
Cooper Cridland Hayes studied with the Australian Ballet School and San Francisco Ballet School.
Here are two you-tube links of Cooper dancing.
Sign up for my blog to get the latest thoughts in health, happiness, and emotional well being.