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Cherry-pick your habits

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Kick off undesirable habits and replace them with new ones that are equally rewarding

Habit is when you crave your mug of beer, listening to Pink Floyd on your playlist while running on the treadmill. This exaggeration is to underscore my preoccupation with habit building and the opportunity I see us having in choosing a new one! Habits are ingrained, have automaticity, emotional memory, and have subcutaneous hold over us. Perhaps this, and many indolent reasons had me believe in my slavery to certain habits till late.

Habit loop

“The habit loop is a neurological pattern that governs any habit. It consists of three elements: a cue, a routine and a reward. Understanding these components can help in understanding how to change habit or cultivate new ones. The habit loop is always started with a cue, a trigger that transfers your brain into a mode that automatically determines which habit to use. The heart of the habit is a mental, emotional or physical routine. Finally there is a reward, which helps your brain determine if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future… The cue and reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges.” — An excerpt from Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.

To me, craving is most central to the debate on habit; it drives all habits and is critical to assess what is a habit and what is not. The strategic aspect in all habits — insidious and desirable — is that they get built on the expectation of reward: what do I get (or feel) off this habit.

To tell you how my understanding of habits evolved, I’ll take the reminiscing route into a habit once integral to my life.

The habit: relaxation and fun equals drinking.

The first time I drank alcohol, I hated it. But I liked the headiness it gave me and that lured me back to my next, until I loved the taste, the act, and the after-effects of an alcoholic binge. To confess, the habit rewarded me lasting memories of friendship, abandon, and experiences that always bring me a smile.

The question is does the habit serve me today? Was it possible — once I’d tasted the reward and repetitive influence of this habit as my only way to unwind — for it to lose its sheen and be replaced with a routine equally rewarding? The answer is a yes.

The habit would have persisted if I hadn’t found a cohesive reward from another source sometime later. It was the experience of unlimited alertness in a physical routine and discipline. In war language, the headiness of alertness was pitting against the lightness of oblivion.

It is the alertness I now needed in the midst of a physical routine that demanded my entire being to be alive and together for its completion, because the demand was to remain alert in mind, till only the body gave up.

In Zoya Akhtar’s seminal movie, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Laila, the diving-instructor, describes her experience of deep-sea diving as meditative as different from addictive. It is similar to the alertness in a bungee jump when one is fully awake to every sensation in and around versus the memory lapse between the fourth peg of alcohol, getting home and waking up in bed the next morning! So, here’s how the habit loop developed in my case: it replaced the routine of drinking to unwind with a daily physical routine — a far more energising reward with immeasurable repeat value. Repeated craving for the reward has built a default habit of physical activity as my preferred way to relax.

To put it in perspective: I do enjoy my drink, but I no longer need a drink to enjoy.

Going back to the idea that habits are mental and emotional too, frequent anxiety, procrastination, self-doubt, and victim mentality are also habits. When they get in the way of a rewarding life, we have a choice of cherry picking new habits and cultivating them, towards happy and engaged lives.

Any habits you wish to swap?

The author is a freelance writer, blogger, and life coach. nivedita@lifealigncoaching.com

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 2:57:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/cherry-pick-your-habits/article22917100.ece

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