I thought that for the New Year I’d pick up a book that would set me in the right mood for New Year resolutions so I picked up “The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I’d like to highlight some of the lessons I learnt with the aim of helping you do the same for your New Year resolutions.

Am writing this purely from what I’ve internalized since I put the book down, and I do not intend on referring to it again for this post with the pure aim of being true to what I’ve become conscious to rather than mechanically quoting what the book says. It’s something I’ll be embracing from now on for my subsequent posts so that you know am only mentioning practical ideas that have been filtered rather than being a mindless copy and paste robot.

Firstly, it’s clear that changing a habit is not as easy as It seems –I guess you already know that– but there was something else interesting about them that’s worth mentioning; apparently there are neurological explanations that point to the existence of habits that we “cannot” control, like problematic smoking, drinking, drug addiction and other forms of addiction that some scientists have argued rewire the brain, and towards the end of the argument, the author explores the possibility that we could prove in court that we are not to be held accountable for destructive actions that were as a result of habits we “couldn’t” control. I guess for me it proves that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for not breaking those bad habits no matter how hard we have tried, I don’t know about going to court but admitting we are powerless to the habit seems like the first thing we need to do just like in the twelve steps of recovery in Alcoholic Anonymous because a problem cannot be countered if it isn’t first acknowledged, and the second most important step I’d say is to look for help outside your own mind if it fails you.

Now let’s talk about will power, by far the biggest lesson I have picked up. The author describes it as a muscle that wears out with subsequent use. It’s like a glass that grows emptier with every sip, which proves that there is such a thing as pushing yourself too hard and when our will power is drained, we snap and give up, so preserve it and be conscious of it as a precious commodity that can be depleted.

So let’s talk changing habits. Now, for a more holistic answer, I’ll have to refer you to the book but the basics are that you habits are divided into a cue, the response, and a reward. For example, an overeater’s cue might be noon, the response is picking up a sugary snack while the reward is the good feeling one gets after eating. If you want to change a habit, the cue and reward should remain constant and it is the response that should change, so instead of walking over to pick a sugary snack, you can replace that with another activity that also makes you feel good, like maybe playing games on your phone to distract yourself while ultimately being rewarded by the pride of not allowing temptation to take over. Another important tip is to reward yourself after you achieve a goal thus reinforcing the positive habit through association with something good.

A moral dilemma was posed to me, companies are collecting data on you and sharing it among themselves, so I pose the question to you, are you comfortable having them share information for the purpose of customer specific marketing? If you or your wife were pregnant but you didn’t know it at first, would you be comfortable having companies send you ads centered around baby products or maybe even a ‘congratulations on your baby’ card? And if you were on the other end of the spectrum where sending said ads and cards made a difference by margins of a couple of millions in terms of profits for your company that trickles down to your bank account, would you do it?

Habits are caused by so many factors, some that are working in the unconscious of your mind as we speak (it appears you have no control over these) and influencing your daily decisions and for a habit to be called a habit, it has to be automatic, something you have done over and over again that it’s almost robotic and the most important thing to keep track of in my view is how your habits make you feel versus how you would want them to make you feel. Habits can be changed and at the core of that is willpower, use it shrewdly and conservatively keeping note of your bad habit cues and rewards if you don’t want to carry those habits into the New Year. Finally, write your shit down. Happy New Year!

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