Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 186, February 2015 )
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Let me understand this:
The human condition: Habit
The research I'm familiar with supports the position that you cannot eliminate or eradicate a habit. You have to change it, supplanting the trigger that gains a reward with something else. Whether alcohol, food, impatience, or biting nails, habits crave reward.
This is why enabling is so insidious. When we loan a gambler money to pay debts, or don't challenge someone who has asked you to point out poor behavior, or give in to a bully, we're exacerbating the problem. If a child steals and continually gets fired from an assortment of jobs and we merely repeatedly forgive and provide money, we're not helping.
I have always detested meetings. I find 95 percent of them useless, mere exchanges of information and ego rattling that needn't be done in person. My habit was to disrupt them, which wasn't very effective for my career in organizational life, or my volunteerism for charity, or my work as a consultant. So I began to use the time another way. I'd sit and listen while also outlining my next book, or creating points for a speech, or identifying traits in the room that helped or hindered progress. In other words, my reward was getting important work done instead of disrupting a meeting.
I've found that many people's trigger to smoke is coffee, and the trigger to drink coffee is smoking. When they gave up both concurrently, they were better able to end their addiction. When the trigger of a cousin's critique creates an argument at a family event and the reward is a feeling of defending oneself, a new trigger might be to walk the dog or play with the kids outside and reward yourself with their interactions and freedom from the cousin.
I don't procrastinate about anything because my reward for getting things done immediately is a free afternoon to play with the aforesaid dogs, or engage in one of my hobbies. A tough phone call triggers an immediate action, not a delay—get it done now, don't fret about it all day. (Hence, issues with the phone company or cable company are always dealt with at 8 am.)
If you want to change your habits, examine your triggers and rewards. They're far easier to manage, and your cousin will soon give up.
My wife and I show up at the Warwick Cinema on a freezing night, and I've cleverly placed a twenty in my gloved hand so I don't have to mess with anything and can just get our tickets. The ticket person says, "That's $22.50 for the two of you."
I look around in amazement and distaste in getting half-undressed to find my wallet. Then I see the sign, "senior discounts." I said, "Well, with the senior discount it should only be $17!"
The clerk looks at me as though she's caught a burglar: "Sir, you two are clearly not over 60."
"True enough!" I said and began to deglove and unzip in search of the other $2.50.
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