It’s January so you knew this was coming. I’ve given up on New Year’s Resolutions because it is an exercise in futility and guilt. That said, the new year is coinciding beautifully with my attempt to develop new or changed habits. I have enlisted the help of two books to take my best stab at the slow, steady process of good habit formation.
Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit has been banging around since 2012, so you might have heard about it already. It’s still quite popular at the library. Duhigg takes a deep dive into why habits develop and why they don’t. Guess what? It’s all about the basal ganglia. Did you know you have one of those? Habits exist deep in the old parts of our brain, they are practically unconscious reactions.
So how do we make our basal ganglia create a new habit or change a less desirable one? Our habits exist in something Duhigg calls “the habit loop.” You have a cue, it triggers an automatic routine that leads to a reward. But actually, it’s trickier than that! You put together a cue, routine, and reward but then you must cultivate a craving that drives the loop. Duhigg uses this example. A smoker sees a pack of cigarettes, the “cue,” the brain anticipates the hit of nicotine. The cigarettes drive the craving and it grows until the cigarette is smoked.
We can change our behaviors by understanding how to satisfy the craving with a substitute routine. As Duhigg writes, “Use the same cue, provide the same reward, change the routine.”
The Power of Habit blew my mind. Well, the first 100 page or so, because that’s all I’ve read thus far. Highly recommended if you are in the market for new or changed habits.
The second book I’m reading to try to be the “new me” is Dan Harris’s Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. I’m completely sold on the health benefits of meditation (both physical and mental) but I struggle to commit to the routine. I’m a fidgety skeptic for sure, so how could I not check this one out.
Dan Harris, the guy who wrote 10% Happier, teams up with meditation guru Jeff Warren to get at all the reasons people resist meditation and point by point works to challenge those barriers. A few chapter titles give you a flavor for the book: “I Can’t Do This,” “I Don’t Have Time to Do This,” “People Might Think I’m Weird.”
Once again, I’m not finished with this book yet (are we seeing a pattern here?), but I love what I’ve read so much, I’m telling you about it. Want to meditate but can’t make it happen? Dan and Jeff might be able to help you out.
Happy New Year. May you be the person you want to be in 2019!
-Brad Allen is the director of Lawrence Public Library.