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.
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