How come chronically obese people don’t just lose weight through exercise and dieting? It’s the most common advice for overweight people. What about the smoker who has wound up in a hospital with lung cancer? Ever wonder why they just don’t give up smoking despite knocking on Death’s door. It may have something to do with the power of habit.
Understanding human behavior and the power of habit can make you a more productive programmer. People that are obese usually have a behavior problem not a diet or exercise problem. For years, I was a social smoker. The kind that drinks on night’s out. Every time I went to the pub and had a drink, a craving would hit me for a cigarette. As soon as it got into my head, I would go out into the smoking area and ask a friend for a smoke. It was unconscious. I only stopped smoking after I learned about how habits work. I don’t even remember the last time I smoked.
For this blog post, I am going to give you a brief overview of habits and using them to achieve your goals. This expands on my last blog post about pre-planning your life.
I am hoping that by the end of this article, you will be able to use habits to achieve goals in your life.
The Cause of A Bad Habit
According to Charles Duhigg in his fascinating book, The Power of Habit, a habit has three parts. A cue, a routine and a reward.
Humans have limited willpower so your brain tries to make a lot of behavior habitual. This helps us conserve willpower and allow our habits to run our life on autopilot.
So for every habit, we have a cue which causes the behavior. For me, I would have a drink in the pub and soon after, ramble out to the smoking area and have a cigarette. The cue was an alcoholic drink, the habit was going out to the smoking area and the reward was a cigarette. Some overweight people have reported eating mindlessly while watching TV. The TV may be the cue to the bad behavior. The brain may be recognizing that it gets a reward for watching TV which reinforces the behavior.
So for every cue, there follows a behavior pattern which in turn leads to a reward, how can we use this information to achieve our goals.
How I Learned To Code Using The Power of Habit
In my last post, I spoke about planning your goals. Once you know your goals, you can think about the habits and daily routine that will help you achieve that goal. Once you start the daily routine and habitual practice, success will be yours.
My aim was to be a Ruby on Rails developer after much playing around. I knew that programming is a skill and like any skill, it needs practice. So I set as much time as I could to study without putting too much pressure on myself. I would first start with a small goal for the day. Something so small that it was never overwhelming. For example, I would tell myself to only write one line of code and be happy with that.
As soon I got over that tiny hurdle, I would start gaining momentum and study for about 40 minutes to an hour. Now here is the key, for a reward, I would eat some chocolate. After doing this for some time, I had tricked my brain into believing that this study behavior was going to lead to a reward. I never had to sum up the motivation to study as the routine was set and reinforced by reward.
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