habit

By Any Other Name

Habit loops. Behavior change. Change models. Seems there are a number of ways we describe the very human phenomenon of laying neural paths. New ways to say the same thing seem to pop up every day. Here are a few:

Charles Duhigg: Cue, Routine, Reward

BJ Fogg: Trigger, Ability, Motivation

My friend’s model of change: There’s Aware; Then aware after the fact; Then sometimes catch yourself; Then eventually stop

John B. Arden: Focus, Effort to change, Effortlessness, Determined to stay in practice

Kurt Lewin: Unfreezing (getting ready to change); Change/Transition; Freezing (or refreezing)

James Prochaska: Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance and Termination

Feedback Loop: Data, Relevance (the context of the behavior), Consequence, and Action

Martha Beck: Death and rebirth; Dreaming and scheming; The hero’s sage; The promised land

What is striking about these models is that they all seem to be reinterpretations of classic models.
The story-telling model: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
Or said another way: stasis, trigger, the quest, surprise, critical choice, climax, reversal, resolution.
Or frankly, the hero’s journey (paraphrased and abbreviated): call to adventure, refusal of the call, supernatural aid, first threshold, belly of the whale (bottoming out), road of trials, limited success, temptation, atonement, success, return.
The difference is that these classic models seem to acknowledge the complexity of change and the journey change requires whereas the more modern adaptations look more like quick fixes.

Life Fitness

The benefits of exercise are well-documented, but they tend to focus on the physical. Exercise can also help you with problems in life. It's a "keystone" habit that makes a difference in so much more than your waist line.

The often overlooked but perhaps most powerful thing it does is teach you to be uncomfortable, to confront pain. In How Exercise Shapes You, Far Beyond the Gym, Brad Stulberg breaks it down. 

In a world where comfort is king, arduous physical activity provides a rare opportunity to practice suffering.

The Empathy Trap

Empathy is all the rage these days - in business, in design, in life.  But there's a cost. From the article:

"Situations of unequal power can also create imbalance between partners in giving or receiving empathy. Consider an extreme condition, Stockholm syndrome, in which hostages come to express loyalty and empathy toward their captors. Upon rescue, a newly freed person expresses understanding for the captors’ actions, sometimes even the desire to remain in touch with or to serve them. Battered women and abused children often form similar bonds with their abusers.

Sadly, in relationships marked by unequal power, those in the low-power position are more likely to defer to the needs of those in the high-power position. Doing so helps them hold on to the attachment—at the cost of becoming the architects of their own disenfranchisement."

What struck me most in the article was that last line. Attachment - that basic need - can become a bad habit that is difficult to shake and can lead to a lot of self-destruction - in all its forms.

The Push and Pull

If you've ever struggled with making the right choice, you might find new research that helps alcoholics abstain interesting. For me it's not alcohol, but poor food choices. I like my pastries and I can sometimes overindulge. I know that overindulging is usually not about the food. But while I know that intellectually, habitually I can find myself reaching for something I don't need before I can even think about it.

Now, this is the moment when mindfulness is supposed to help. In an ideal scenario, I am in the moment and can be mindful of my emotions and actions, and stop myself from temptation. But realistically - this doesn't happen often. No matter how much I meditate.

That's why I find this cognitive-bias modification (CBM) technique so intriguing.  I'm aware of the grooves in my brain that tell my body to grab certain foods when undergoing stress or discomfort, would a physical connection help to reinforce the message?