I forgot to eat the chocolate!
There’s a lot of motivation and inspirational talk going around this week, with New Year’s resolutions and the best of intentions in the air. But what we really need to change our behavior and improve our lives is positive habits. Boring, mindless, and highly-effective habits.
I was reminded of this yesterday when I finally remembered to eat the chocolate. It happened at exactly 1:42 p.m. Pacific Time. Let me explain.
In December, I decided to start my new year’s resolutions a month early, to get a head start. Having recently read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, I was especially interested in the Trigger-Routine-Reward sequence that he describes. As a recently lapsed runner hoping to return to a solid five day per week exercise regimen, I decided to give myself a small reward. It was nothing special, just a piece of (somewhat healthy) dark chocolate to enjoy after completing each run.
During the second and third weeks of December, the thought of that delicious chocolate kept me focused and running every day. Chocolate danced in my head as I jogged. I thought about how great it would taste when I returned home muddy and soaked from my trail runs. The chocolate was the first thing I would grab, after a big drink of water. I could enjoy and savor the chocolate I had rightfully earned. Yum!
After a week “off” while visiting family out of state, I returned to my running routine. But something strange happened after New Year’s Day. I forgot to eat the chocolate after my first run of the new year, and remembered only after I was falling asleep that evening. No chocolate at all that day. The second day, I remembered the chocolate three hours after my run, but only because I happened to be looking for something else in that same cupboard. Two days in a row!
What I realized was that daily running had become automatic for me again. The small reward had helped jump start a positive routine. I was enjoying the feeling of running again for its own sake, not solely for the anticipated reward. Admittedly, as a former runner, this habit was not as difficult for me to create as some behaviors other people might be trying to start (or stop). But building positive habits has to begin somewhere, and creating these mental pathways seems to be a great first step. If this all sounds incredibly obvious and simple, then I guess that’s the point!
What’s Your Plan?
What habits do you plan to start (or stop) in 2013? Do you understand the trigger-routine-reward sequence that’s driving these behaviors? Check out The Power of Habit book for more ideas and case studies. Make a plan.
Oh, and by the way, I still ate the chocolate yesterday after I finally remembered it. And I’d do it again. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a little reward!