Never Too Old For New Habits

This is the third and final post on the theme of habits (at least for now.) To read the first two posts, click here and here.

one new shoe and one worn out shoe

All the pieces are in place. I have goals, some left over from 2012. I know what habits to change to reach them. I selected one keystone habit to change to instill positive momentum. All of this, and two weeks into 2013, I’m stuck.

Easy To Imagine. Hard to Do.
My experience in changing habits may be like yours. We know what we want to change. We know at a conscious level how to do it. But the deeply imprinted routes in our brain that direct our behavior about “what to do when” easily overwhelm our intentions. It’s one of many paradoxes about changing habits. It’s easy to imagine. It’s hard to do.

The good news is that while habits are powerful, they are not our destiny. We often hear habits described as “good” or “bad.” In fact, they are neither. Our brains can’t tell the difference between a good habit and a bad one. We are just wired to see a clue, automate a response, and get a reward. The outcomes may be good or bad, but that depends on the habits we develop, not the process.

The Key to Changing Old Habits is Creating New Ones
If we’re going to have habits (and we are), and we want good outcomes (and we do), then our challenge is to create new habits if the old ones don’t get us what we want.  Our habits never go away. Researchers who reprogram mice to run a maze by putting the reward in a different place find that when they remove the reward, the mice run the old pattern. Think you’re smarter than the mice? Change the reward of being able to fit into your clothes and see how quickly you’ll go back to your version of after school milk and cookies on the couch watching television.

Old habits will always be with us. But for new outcomes, we need new habits.
Charles Duhigg (2012) in The Power of Habit, describes how we can make them. It’s sort of like this:


1. We experience some triggering event. It reminds us of a previous experience. The alarm is sent.
2. We retrieve our automated response. To change a habit, change the response.
3. We get a reward. To reinforce the response, reward it.

My Plan to Get Unstuck
So, if I am going to get my momentum back to reach leftover 2012 goals, I still need to change habits. I need to change them starting with the one key habit that will give me the greatest momentum: getting up one hour earlier.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll have the same trigger. Night will turn to day. (And, if that doesn’t happen, I have bigger problems.) But I will manage my clue differently. I will force myself to get out of bed to get the coffee I want.  (Note to dearest husband: No more whispering Are you ready for coffee yet? as I rest, eyes closed, curled around my pillow. Ignore my pleas. Forgive my reaction when you do.) Reward myself for getting up with a half hour of Italian lessons over cappuccino. (Now that’s worth getting out of bed for. Seriously.) The day after tomorrow, I’ll do the same. Soon, my new habit will be my old habit. That’s how it works.

The Work
Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom – and the responsibility – to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.

Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit (2012)

What about you? How will you leverage the power of habits? It’s not too late, and you’re not too old, to get to work.


Duhigg, Charles (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and in Business.  New York: Random House.

7 thoughts on “Never Too Old For New Habits

    • You are ahead of many, David. One insight I got from Duhigg’s book is to focus on the rewards you’ll give yourself from the responses. His book is pretty good if you are interested in learning more.

      Thanks for the comment on the site. Still a work in progress (sigh) as is so many things.

  1. Pingback: Patience Grasshopper. Patience. – Lead.Learn.Live.

  2. Change the response. Pick the little thing that could be a big thing (from post #2 in your series).
    Both of those resonate a lot with me. Both personally and thinking about organizations – which you know I do a lot. I’m sitting here reading through a bunch of blog posts related to my new thing — participating in MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses — to understand them more from the inside. But one of the consistent themes in them is how people struggle with adapting to the firehose of information. They kinda want to jump in, because they suspect it will help them. But it’s hard. [Response – yikes! too hard…Let me just go back to my normal way of gathering info] And they miss the opportunities, I think, to “pick the little thing” that could be the big thing. It might just be — hmmm — commenting on a blog post. Never know where that will lead.

    Thanks as always for the thoughtful posts. Great series…Habits have been warned.

  3. You are spot on, Jeff, as usual. I feel like I’ve overused paradox in this series, but that’s the “ah-ha” it leaves with me. The real effort isn’t in developing an interest or setting a goal, yet it’s where we place so much of our effort. It’s creating the habits to accommodate our ideas. The idea is easy, the habit is harder. But, it can be done. And when it’s changed, the “auto response” works for us!

    Thanks for dropping by.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s