Mommy made me Do It!

There is an age old adage, “people don’t change.” My whole life I have debated this. I for one completely changed from the inside out in college (so basic, I know). My perspective on relationships matured and I let go forever of limiting beliefs. How it happened is a long story for another post, but to sum it up, it was intense introspection initiated by an injury that left me to my own devices most of the time.

Charles Duhigg’s best selling book The Power of Habit, confirmed my belief, with a twist. In a sense people don’t change, but their habits do. We are such a product of a violent and chaotic world it’s no wonder why we don’t know why we do or what we do.

He outlines a pretty fascinating concept called the habit loop. All loops have an underlying desire (to me one of the harder aspects to narrow down) and they also have a cue, a routine, and a reward. The cue initiates your habit, the routine is the typical pattern you endure to carry it out, and the reward is the satisfaction you obtain from seeing the habit through. Keep in mind breaking down these habits to their functional parts works for both negative and positive habits and components.

I was reading this book at a very opportune time. My mother and I were going through a rocky patch, she felt unheard, and I couldn’t make sense of her complaints of me. I decided to take this example and apply Duhigg’s approach.

To break it down:

The problem: My mom complained I didn’t appreciate her time with her while visiting on vacation. In terms of my behavior this came across as harsh and cold.

The Cue: My mom attempted to dictate my vacation itinerary.

The Habit: Generally I tried to appease her, but I would make a snarky comment out of anger and missing out on other things I wanted to do (outside of her suggestions).

The Reward: She is sad and withdraws from communications with me out of hurt from my comments.

Okay, and in reference to what I said before, please note that because I say my mom is sad as the reward, does not mean I want her to be sad.

This is where we find the underlying concept of the loop. Again, for me it is one of the more tricky pieces to identify. But for me, what I really wanted, was a bit more anti-authoritarian. I wanted to control my itinerary, do what I WANTED to do. This is getting harder and harder going back to visit my family where I grew up. In fact this past trip elucidated the fact that home isn’t really home anymore. If some of you know that feeling, you know it is bittersweet, alas a topic for another post.

Back to the point, Duhigg’s thesis is that to change a habit, what has to be altered is the ROUTINE.

So after applying Duhigg’s practice, this is what I gander I have to do:

The cue: My mom tells me what to do.

Routine: Thank mom for the ideas but communicate why I cannot oblige.

Reward: She may still be disappointed BUT at least she can see my perspective.

(You may ask why I didn’t do this all before. But lets be real, moms can be tough, and actually the fact that I would listen to her most of the time is a miracle. She really is the only one in the world that can influence me in that way.) Hi Mom, love you!!!!

Duhigg suggests when you are trying to change a habit. Look at some of the key factors that influence your cue. These are details that are more than likely influencing you: Location, People, Time of Day, Directly preceding sensation/thought/action, Emotional State.

Lets put a simpler example together:

Cue: ___________________

Routine: Going to get coffee.

Reward: Feeling more energized and awake.

To find our cue, lets ask yourself, ‘Do you want this coffee because you are tired and it is 6 am?’ ‘Do you want this coffee because you feel like a chat in the breakroom?’ ‘Do you want this coffee because it is close by to your desk and the aroma smells good?’

For myself, the answer would be time of day. I only drink coffee in the morning, I actually prefer to drink it in quiet, and it is across the office. SO if I wanted to change this coffee habit here is what my loop would look like.

Cue: It is 8 am and I am sleepy.

Routine (this has change): Going to get a tea or Kombucha.

Reward: Feeling energized and awake.

If I wanted to change the CAFFEINE habit, this is what I would do:

Cue: It is 8 am and I am sleepy.

Routine (this has change): Going to get a lemon/mint infused soda water.

Reward: Feeling energized and awake.

Keep in mind Duhigg outlines that this is difficult, and relapse is to be expected. Habits can only be overridden by conscious willpower or a new, deeper habit.
•The subconscious always follows the path of least resistance.
•But we can use willpower to override a habit with a new behaviour.
•Or to bridge the gap between a new habit and a deeper one.

I am trying this in a couple different arenas, but I hope you all find it as hopeful as I do! People can change. And they can’t! It is up to us to dig deep, close out the noise, and decipher who we really are and share that with the world. We are all perpetually beta ß and we can’t rest on our laurels our whole lives, we have to be uncomfortable in order to grow.

4 thoughts on “Mommy made me Do It!

  1. As an established authority your mother assumes that this role should be continued into adulthood. You are an adult and peer now and the old patterns need to be adjusted. It doesn’t mean you don’t like your mother now, but more as a friend than a god!

    Liked by 1 person

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