How to Build Habits for a Happy Holidays

The News, 12/01/2017

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits” –William James

No matter where you’re at in life, the Holidays can be stressful. You just got everybody together for Thanksgiving, and now might be gearing up for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Festivus.

You need a way to de-stress and make the Holidays great. If you read The Mission, then you’re smart and ambitious, and you likely have a litany list of goals or habits you want to work on developing. The Holidays can be like a forging furnace. You can either walk through the valley of the shadow of EggNog, Cookies, and Booze unharmed… or you can go full binge mode, and set yourself up for a rough start to 2018. Walking that line is tough, and sometimes binge mode happens. When it does, dust yourself off and focus on the daily habits that will help lift you up and out of it. When it comes to better habits, we haven’t found a better resource than,

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is a classic and these are three of the most powerful lessons and takeaways from the book.

First, we have to face the problem:

“When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit — unless you find new routines — the pattern will unfold automatically. However, simply understanding how habits work — learning the structure of the habit loop — makes them easier to control. Once you break a habit into its components, you can fiddle with the gears.

The problem is that your brain can’t tell the difference between bad and good habits, and so if you have a bad one, it’s always lurking there, waiting for the right cues and rewards.”

Stop blaming yourself or your brain. They’re just stuck in the loops they’re familiar with.

Second, understanding cues and rewards will help you create better habits:

“Claude Hopkins was one of the most famous people in advertising. He created a demand for products where previously nothing existed. This example is about getting people to brush their teeth (something we can all be thankful for).

The secret to his success, Hopkins would later boast, was that he had found a certain kind of cue and reward that fueled a particular habit. It’s an alchemy so powerful that even today the basic principles are still used video game designers, food companies…

So what, exactly, did Hopkins do? He created a craving. And that craving, it turns out, is what makes cues and rewards work. That craving is what powers the habit loop.

To sell Pepsodent, then, Hopkins needed a trigger that would justify the toothpaste’s daily use. He sat down with a pile of dental textbooks. “It was dry reading,” he later wrote. “But in the middle of one book I found a reference to the mucin plaques on teeth, which I afterward called ‘the film.’ That gave me an appealing idea. I resolved to advertise this toothpaste as a creator of beauty. To deal with that cloudy film.”

Think of your bad habits as a type of film and grime that builds up and stands between you and your goals. You need to create a new kind of trigger that leads you away from the old, and then rewards you for the new behavior.

Third, you must have a reward, and a belief in yourself and that change is possible matters:

Only when your brain starts expecting the reward — craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment — will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.

From William James (paraphrased by Charles Duhigg)…

“the will to believe is the most important ingredient in creating belief in change. And that one of the most important methods for creating that belief was habits. Habits, he noted, are what allow us to “do a thing with difficulty the first time, but soon do it more and more easily, and finally, with sufficient practice, do it semi-mechanically, or with hardly any consciousness at all.” Once we choose who we want to be, people grow “to the way in which they have been exercised, just as a sheet of paper or a coat, once creased or folded, tends to fall forever afterward into the same identical folds.” If you believe you can change — if you make it a habit — the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be. Once that choice occurs — and becomes automatic — it’s not only real, it starts to seem inevitable, the thing, as James wrote, that bears “us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

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