The (Seeming) Power of Habits

Habits are powerful, generally hidden, drivers of behavior.

My basic understanding of habits is that there’s a cue, a response and a reward (or result) (that is seen as desirable and/or functional).

Many habits are not, actually, good for us, and/or those around us.

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A question some coaches (myself included) like to ask in regards to non-positive habits is: if I gave you a million dollars could you replace* this habit?

Predictably, most everyone says “Sure, for a million dollars . . . ”

So, I wonder: “If this habit doesn’t serve this person, and they are open to replacing the habit, why don’t they just do that?”

Because the habit has utility. It meets a (key) need for the individual.

If nothing else, the habit provides a predictable results, sometimes even a pleasurable result (if only short-term pleasure, or relief).

My theory is that our desire for safety and stability trumps even a positive change.

The potential positive change is rejected because, even though our cerebral brain sees the change and positive and beneficial, our limbic (emotional) brain sees change as a threat (or at least a challenge) to our current safety/situation.

It is staggering how powerful the limbic brain can be in resisting change and new habits.

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But my point here is, and this is something I am genuinely curious about, is, if we can change for a million dollars, why can’t we change for our health, or a key relationship or our happiness/fulfillment/achievement?

I have my theory, but what do you think?

Let the question percolate/marinate a bit and drop me a line in the comments below.

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* Notice I didn’t say “end” or “change” the habit? That’s because habits are better replaced, than resisted.

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