Monday, May 21, 2012

Break A Habit? Change the Routine, the Reward, the Cue

I'm out of my element, geographic and daily living, for a few weeks and realize that it's even harder to maintain a new habit (my meditation almost habit) when there are no longer the same familiar cues, such as NPR waking me up. It serves to remind me to wander from bed into the living room, set the stove timer for 20 minutes, wrap myself in an afghan against the cold early morning, hunch over on the couch and empty my mind. Why am I doing this? To decrease my reactivity to stressors, to increase intuitive problem-solving, and to acquire greater inner peace. I'm now in the 5th month of acquiring the habit, to which I'm strongly committed. And I've already felt the rewards — and yet I haven't meditated, morning, or noon, or night, for the last week or more.

I'm back looking at Duhigg's, The Power of Habit. He wrote about a habit that he wanted to alter. I'm looking at one that I want to acquire, but it appears that the steps for changing a habit are somewhat the same.

 Step 1 is Identify the Routine, meaning the behavior that I want to or don't want to engage in. I've done that with meditation and asked readers with the negative self-talk habit to do so also.

Step 2 is Experiment with Rewards. Duhigg suggestion relates primarily to habits that you're trying to undo. After you notice that your uber critic is hammering you, immediately write down 3 potential "rewards" that come to mind. I've wondered often about the rewards of NST and have only guesses. E.g. Punishment creates some relief; it will make a good story when friends gather and empty out their "bads" to each other; self-esteem rises with self-awareness of your faults?

 Check out  http://intelligentwomenonly.blogspot.com/2010/04/why-do-women-continue-with-nst-nasty.html 
for more "whys" about the negative self-talk habit.

For me and meditation, I have definitely experienced the rewards, which unfortunately don't seem to sustain my behavior/routine.

Step 3 is Isolate the Cue that triggers the habit. Duhigg says that almost all habitual cues fit into one of 5 categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, immediately preceding action. My guess is that with NST, the cues are both emotional state (stress, depression, anxiety) and/or immediately preceding action, an interaction didn't go well.

I have to find a different cue than NPR radio as the alarm, because it doesn't generalize to not being in my usual daily life, when I probably need to meditate moreso than usual.

Step 4 is Have a Plan to change the behavior by changing the cue and changing the behavior that triggers the REAL reward you're seeking. I can see how this might work for breaking a habit, but not for acquiring a habit. I'll be pondering.

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