(Flowers at the Bobbio Centre)
I’ve been reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. (Not actually reading but listening to it on a long car journey.) I am really interested in the studies he talks about around habits. I want to use the book to practice intentionally changing a particular habit – eating pastries. It’s a very interesting book and very easy to listen to.
Earlier this year Linda and I were talking about habits and I was complaining about how hard it is to break bad habits, why is it never as hard to break good habits… ? And then I remembered recycling. At home we have a recycle bin and most of the plastics, all of the paper, tin cans and shampoo bottles go in there and get collected every fortnight. The glass bottles and jars have to go to the supermarket recycle bins. Plastic bags, batteries, bulbs, scrap metal and books go to the recycle center in Bray. A straight forward enough routine, once you get used to it. I didn’t consider it a habit until I was away from home.
When we were travelling through France my recycle routine was very different. The only recycle bins were those for glass bottles and newspapers. Everything else went into the rubbish bins. In the beginning I saved the plastics and the tins and I snuck any receipts into the newspaper recycle bin because I really, really didn’t want to put what I considered recycling into a rubbish bin. The day came when my saved recycling was taking up too much space and I had to dump it. It was much harder than I thought it would be. I felt terrible… of course I did, breaking a habit feels terrible. It is just as hard to break a good habit as it is to break a bad habit. So is it just as easy to start a good habit as it is to start a bad habit?
(Stop. Now what?)
The Power of Habit book describes the basic constituents of a habit, good or bad. There’s the Cue. In my recycle habit that’s a newly empty plastic container in my hand. Then there’s the Routine. That’s me putting my empty container in my recycle bin and pushing my bin to the front garden on recycle collection days. Then there’s the Reward. When I take care of the recycling I feel like I’m taking care of the earth, that’s a big reward. This belief actually strengthens the habit setup but it was also the belief that led me to the habit.
(Shade at the Bobbio Centre)
What about my eating pastries (or biscuits) habit? Using the information from the book, first, I need to recognize the Cue. What is it that tells me I have to have a pastry? I’m still working on this but so far I’ve come up with comforting, when I need comfort I reach for the sweetness of a pastry or a biscuit. Next I need to set up the new Routine. I want to replace the sweetness with water. It would be so good for me to up my intake of water and it might just fill me up. Walk to sink, pour water into glass and Drink Water. Next comes the Reward. What is the reward? At the moment the reward is the taste of the pastry which seems to provide temporary comfort. I do have a useful belief that sugar is not good for me. And another belief that water is good for me. Also, I have a strong desire (like, I really, really want) to live for at least another forty years (I’m almost 58 now) so everything I can do to take care of my health is important to me because from what I hear illness in old age sucks. So if I’m lucky enough to get my forty years I want my old age to sparkle. Actually, I want every day to sparkle with good health. By combining all those beliefs and desires my Reward becomes, I feel like I’m creating a life where I can sparkle all the way to sparkling old age. Ok I’m ready to do this!
As well as going public here I’ll be sharing the outcome of this experiment at the Nurture in Nature Retreat because attending one nurturing weekend is great but we’d like to help everyone set up habits to nurture you for the rest of your life. (Of course I’m also selfishly using the retreat to make myself accountable to others because that will strengthen my resolve.)
(Cutting off the seed-head)
There’s loads of different theories about how long it takes to make a habit stick. Is it 21 days or 66 days? I have 49 days… is it possible for me to change my pastry habit in 49 days? I’ll let you know.