A Bad Habit

It’s 10:00p, I’ve crossed off a handful of tasks from a never-ending punch list. I know I should hit the sheets soon if I expect to wake up early and feel revitalized in the morning. But I want to make sure I’ve accomplished as much as I can before I lay in a coma-like state for seven hours straight. So, I start doing busy work – checking emails, reading up on trivial topics, browsing Facebook, or writing to-do lists. Three hours tick by. It’s nearly 1:00 AM in the morning and I have to be up by 6:00 AM. At this point, I know I’m going to suffer in the morning and that I will struggle to focus even after a double Americano. I immediately plop down on my bed, pull the sheets over me and quietly say to myself, “Tomorrow will be different.”

Key to Productivity

Habits Make Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs are always searching for new ways to increase their productivity, free-up time, and get more-shit-done. If productivity and happiness were guarded by a door, habit would be the key.

A habit, by definition, is an automatic behavior acquired through repetition. They are extremely difficult, but not impossible, to change.

By doing busy work between 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM, I was training my brain to associate late night hours with activity instead of sleep. It was repetitive and unconscious. Without even being aware of it, my late-night-getter-done mentality wasn’t helping me getting much done at all. And it paved the way for more bad habits. Even if I tried to hit the sheets early, my mind would continue to race as I lay in bed. Some nights I would grab a beer, hoping it’ll sedate me. I might end up drinking a few beers, oftentimes passing out and then waking the next morning in a haze. Or I’d snooze my alarm and end up rushing out the door to my first meeting/event of the day.

All of this chaos originated from one bad habit.

The Power of Habits

The Habit Loop Explained

This habit loop was created by Charles Duhigg, the author of the Power of Habit. He says that there are three parts to a habit – (1) a Cue, (2) a Routine, and (3) a Reward.

  • A Cue is something that triggers the entire habit loop. It could be a feeling, a time of day, a place, or even a smell.
  • A Routine is the set of actions that you (often unconsciously) perform after the Cue.
  • The Reward is “something good” you get out of performing the Routine.

Together these three parts cultivate a Craving. Habits are born when you start craving the Reward. The first step to kick a bad habit is to understand the different parts of the habit loop. Deconstructing a habit allows us to break down a habit into bite sized parts.

This same habit loop applies to companies as well. You can apply the same ideas of this blog to the culture of your company. But I’ll save the details of organizational habits for another post.

Next, we’ll explore how to change the entire habit by focusing on one part of the habit loop.

Replacing the Routine

To kick a bad habit, replace the Routine. Sounds simple right? It is – and that’s what makes it extremely difficult to do. Any habit can be replaced if the Cue and Reward stay the same, but the Routine is changed.

A late-night bad habit

At 10:00 PM, I would unconsciously start “working” harder thinking I could make up for the time I’d be losing by going to sleep. The reason I did that (the Reward) was because I wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment before I could lay still. This habit loop had me spinning my wheels for three hours when I really should have just hit the sheets.

Replace the Routine

So, I did some brainstorming and settled on an end-of-day reflection where I’d list out the things I accomplished that day and write about the little “wins.” After all, every big Win is just a series of little wins. My new Routine only takes about 20 minutes to complete. It’s also triggered by the same Cue (Time – 10:00 PM) and has the same Reward (feeling accomplished and relaxed before bed). My new Routine saves me 160 minutes (89%). I’m usually in bed by 10:45 PM and get up at 5:30 AM. I feel accomplished before going to bed and feel rested and rejuvenated when I wake up.

It will take creativity to modify a routine while maintaining the same cue and reward. The question becomes “How can I experience the same rewards doing something better (saves time, energy, cost, etc.)?”

At first, you may try a new Routine that doesn’t work so well. It might mean that you’ll need to reflect further on what’s the real Reward that drives your habit loop. Or you may need to modify the routine.

Breaking Bad

Deliberate Consistency

Studies say that up to 40% of what we do on a daily basis is by habit not by choice. Sometimes the habits that we’ve adopted aren’t the best. When you spot a bad habit, you can kick it by breaking it down into parts and replacing the routine. A habit is an unconscious behavior, so in order to kick a bad habit, we must be deliberate. Habits also occur through repetition so in order to break free from its chains, we must be consistent. Breaking a bad habit is empowering because it builds a sense of control – I can control my fate. “Tomorrow will be different.”

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