Old habits die hard is a phrase first spoken by Jeremy Belknap at the end of the 1800s.
Currently, I am reading a book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It is definitely one of the top five non-fiction books I have read. You can find out the others that make the list on a separate blog post dedicated to them all later. But, this book has made me reexamine my life and why I do the things I do in a totally different way.
This idea of habits dying hard is something that is tackled throughout the course of the book. And, actually, habits never really die, but they can be replaced which is the central theme of the novel. Duhigg brings in multiple famous examples from the legendary coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tony Dungy; he brings in the culture of Alcoholics Anonymous; the extremely specific marketing strategies employed by Target to influence people’s behavior, and he does all of this in a text that is refreshing and captivating to read.
Duhigg starts the novel with a woman who is addicted to smoking. Then, suddenly, she changes her behavior and quits. Now, I haven’t finished reading the book yet, so I am unsure if he will come back to the story at the end (I assume he will), but throughout the rest of the chapters, he examines how our habits form, how they affect us, and how they can be changed. He examines things noted as “keystone habits” which influence the other lower-level habits that we have. For example, he mentions that making the bed in the morning is a “keystone habit” that typically puts us in a better disposition throughout the day to be organized, focused, and disciplined. (Since reading that, I have made my bed every single day).
This book has been extremely compelling for me to read. Not only for the information it contains, but because I want to change some of my more destructive habits that I am cognizant about but feel rather powerless to change. This is where the blog post gets quite personal.
Like many young, males I like to go out and have a good time. This usually involves alcohol. But, recently, I have decided to stop getting drunk. Notice what I said there: I’m choosing to give up being drunk but I’m not giving up alcohol. Perhaps I can eventually get to the point where I don’t want to have a drink anymore, but right now that isn’t realistic and it isn’t the main source of issues in my life. Getting drunk is the main source of my issues. Rather, it is my forgetfulness (which is already very bad) but is definitely extrapolated once I reach the level of inebriation.
Just this past week I lost my cell phone. I left it in a taxi after a night of drinking. This in itself is pretty bad but coupled with the fact that this has now become a habit, I need to take corrective measures to better myself. In fact, this is my third time ever losing a phone in a taxi (I had a few bad months while living in Chile). However, what’s more problematic, is that this is my third new phone within three months.
Now, if that wasn’t bad enough, I am also going to expand upon this idea why this extracurricular activity of mine has to change. Half a month ago or so I went out one week and it just happened that I went out on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. And I didn’t just go out for one or two, I went out for 10+ drinks (looking back on it). Not only is this insanely unhealthy for my body, but it is also quite the unnecessary expense for someone who is trying to budget (and should be budgeting) for plans to move to South America in two year’s time.
As I was reading this book, and in a moment of self-reflection and examination, I really pondered why is it that I go out so much. Why do I feel the need to get drunk? Why has this become a habit of mine? This moment of self-reflection also brought back to mind previous relationships where drinking (and over-drinking specifically) caused problems that could have been avoided. This self-reflection is great because that is the premise of the book. It helps us to fully understand ourselves, our habits, and why we do the things we do.
Who am I?
While looking into myself and who I am, I realize why I gravitate towards these types of situations. They have people. I am a people person. I am not saying that zodiacs are completely accurate at all, but I am a horse in the Chinese zodiac so I am: “Attractive and popular to the opposite sex. Horses are ostentatious.” Furthermore, my personality type (ENFP) means that I am an extravert who loves the energy of other people and the “F” means that I love helping others and I make more decisions based upon feelings and personal values. Actually, if you’ve never taken this personality test and don’t know your four letters I encourage you to take it here: www.16personalities.com. Actually, it is a very enlightening test that will teach you more about yourself and other people you interact with.
Understanding this and recognizing it has now made it certain to me why I go out so much. At bars and clubs, I can interact with people. And when I interact with people at night time, well, drinks accompany the situation. The problem I face now, though, is maintaining the interaction with people while not drinking in excess.
This then leads to another issue that I face. I am an author. Typically, writers are solitary people who merely observe but don’t really interact. At least, they don’t have quite a nightlife schedule like me. I have many projects that I want to complete by my birthday next year. Writing novels is a very solitary process, but when you are the type of individual who feeds off the energy of others, you have yourself quite the paradox.
The Habit Loop
The silver lining in this is that while habits cannot die, they can change. This part I now know. We have what is known as a habit loop. Meaning, there is a cue, which triggers a habit, and then we do the habit to get a reward. For example, sometimes many people eat because they get bored. The cue is boredom, the habit is snacking at work, and the reward is relief from that temporary boredom. While this habit will always remain, we can alter it assuming we keep the same cues and the same rewards. So, in this example, when someone is bored at work, instead of eating, perhaps that individual should go for a walk, which will then satisfy that need for a temporary relief from boredom, yet without feeling the need to eat. The image below shows us how we can change a habit.
For me and my situation, I am cognizant of the fact that my cue is being alone at night. This cue triggers my habit which is to seek attention and energy. I find this attention and energy typically at social gatherings which take place at bars, or friend’s apartments, and where there is typically alcohol involved. Drinking and interacting with people then satisfies this habit and is my reward because I receive the energy and attention my personality type craves.
To be honest, I don’t really know how to handle that situation yet. I have a few ideas that I want to try and implement and will report back on the progress and status of the situation. What I do know, though, is that I need to make some major life adjustments and it begins with not getting drunk anymore and limiting the amount of alcohol I consume. I cannot continue to buy new phones because I lose phones; I cannot continue to waste a night and half a day due to me staying out late; I cannot continue to keep spending an inordinate amount of money on alcohol when I am trying to save money for future life goals of mine.
I am still in the midst of resolving this habit. Moreover, while I have plans in place to potentially resolve the issue of drinking in excess, the fact of the matter remains that going to social interactions still doesn’t allow me to write which is what I need as an author. For that, I will need to build a habit to help keep me consistently writing so that I can meet goals and deadlines which are of a high priority to me. Part of what will help me with this is utilizing things I learned in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but also the ones that I am currently learning in this book. You can read more about that book here.
Old habits die hard. Some habits can never die. But when we are cognizant of why we do what we do, we can change how we do what we do. We do not have to be a rat on a wheel searching for its cheese. Instead, we can choose to run where we want to as long as we get the cheese at the end.