I just got back from three days in big sur (post to come) and my friend and I spent a lot of time discussing how new space can create new habits, how trips can be so refreshing and inspiring. What if we always focused on leaving a habit behind when going on vacation?
Writer Charles Duhigg tells us in his book The Power of Habit about the psychological pattern called the “habit loop”. It’s a three part process that begins with whatever cues or triggers the habit, followed by acting out the habit, and the reward.
There is a part of your brain (Basal Ganglia) that’s associated with routine behaviors or “habits”, but a different part of your brain is associated with decisions. Once a habit is in place the decisions part of your brain goes into cruise control. For example those days you’re driving to work and you just zone out and then you’re there, that’s the decision making part of your brain in cruise control.
Charles Duhigg’s research shows that vacation breaks the triggers that cause the habits to happen. New environments encourage the decision making part of your brain to work harder. “You’ll put your shoes on in a different order without paying any attention to it,” he says, “because once the cues change, patterns are broken up.”
But Duhigg claims it’s not only effective for small habits like the way you put on your shoes or brush your teeth.
“It’s also a great reason why changing a habit on a vacation is one of the proven most-successful ways to do it,” he says. “If you want to quit smoking, you should stop smoking while you’re on a vacation — because all your old cues and all your old rewards aren’t there anymore. So you have this ability to form a new pattern and hopefully be able to carry it over into your life.”
For our Big Sur trip we focused on mental habits. Take a moment and think of the most common negative characteristic you stamp yourself with…. “not good enough, always procrastinating, can’t get a job, can’t get a partner, should be doing this, should be doing that. Don’t should all over yourself and take a little weekend getaway. Use the 3 days to focus on the 3 part habit loop. Other studies show it takes 3 weeks to really break a habit, so there is some power in threes!
Friday: commit to change your negative thought pattern and make note of things you do throughout your day that trigger that negative thought. Ex: waking up late, not excising
Saturday: meditate on how the habit really makes you feel. Ex: smoking makes me feel scared for my health, not exercising makes me feel like I don’t love myself. Then meditate on how it feels to let go of that habit.
Sunday: compare the reward you think you get from the habit with the reward you get from releasing the habit. Dig deep for the reward you think you get from the habit and you might be surprised. Charles Duhigg, for example, did a study on his habit of eating a cookie everyday at his office. The cue or trigger was the time, he ate the cookie at the same time everyday. The action was eating the cookie and the reward wasn’t the obvious sugar rush it was actually his opportunity to socialize with his coworkers. He found out at the end that he was just looking for a break and was just as happy to accompany his work gossip with a glass of water instead of a cookie.
Take three days, go somewhere new, and experiment with changing habits. Habits will come and go and big habits take a lot of deep physiological work, but start this weekend with negative things you say to yourself. If it’s anything like my last three days it will be powerful.
some big time LLYOV,