Photo Credit: Jewish Press

I am your constant companion.
I am your greatest helper or your heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.
I am completely at your command.
Half the things you do, you might just as well turn over to me,
and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly.
I am easily managed; you must merely be firm with me.
Show me exactly how you want something done, and after a few lessons I will do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great men.
And, alas, of all failures as well.
Those who are great, I have made great.
Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine, though I work with all the precision of a machine.
Plus, the intelligence of a man.
You may run me for profit, or run me for ruin; it makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me and I will put the world at your feet.
Be easy with me, and I will destroy you.
Who am I?

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I am a HABIT! – John Di Lemme

 

I’ve written before about Charles Duhigg and book The Power of Habit. Duhigg argues that most of the choices we make each day may feel like products of well-considered decision making. In reality, they are not.

As he explains: They are habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we order, what we say to our kids each night, whether we save or spend, how often we exercise, and the way we organize our thoughts and work routines have enormous impacts on our heath, productivity, financial security, and happiness. One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.

Duhigg’s research not only explains why habits work, but also how they change. Understanding this will allow you to improve your life one baby step at a time.

 

The Habit Loop

The process of forming a habit is a three-step circular system within our brains. Habits begin with a cue, or a trigger that signals to your brain to go into “automatic.” A cue can be a time of day, sound, smell, or feeling. Once the cue is triggered, there is the routine, or the response, whether it is physical, mental, or emotional. Lastly, there is the reward, which helps your mind figure out if this loop is worth recalling for the future. The following is a diagram of the habit loop:

Schonfeld 081817

 

In time, this loop becomes more and more automatic. The cue and the reward become interconnected until your brain anticipates the reward as soon as it hears, sees, or touches the cue. In this way, the routine action becomes a habit – a powerful craving for a reward whenever the trigger is activated.

Now, of course, habits are not fixed in stone. Duhigg writes, “Habits can be ignored, changed, or replaced.” However, habits are so powerful that unless you actively work on fighting it, your brain stops fully participating in decision-making and focuses on other tasks. Therefore, unless you create new routines, the original habit (or routine) will progress automatically.

In his book Habit Stacking: 97 Small Changes that Take Five Minutes or Less, SJ Scott has a slightly different take on the subject. He recommends a habit stacking or the putting together of a bunch of super short habits that form a routine that you can follow daily and change your life in a few short minutes a day.

He explains the way even short habits work: What’s interesting is that it’s easy to notice the big habits and forget all about those small things that we do on a daily basis.

As an example, you probably brush your teeth. This habit doesn’t take that long, but not doing it every day could have a disastrous impact on your long-term health. You could get gingivitis, periodontitis, or tooth decay. You could even lose some of your teeth. All of these outcomes are extremely painful and expensive. Yet most people are able to prevent them simply by brushing their teeth on a consistent basis.

Brushing your teeth isn’t that hard to do. In fact, even the busiest, most overwhelmed people in the world find five minutes of time to properly brush their teeth. Unfortunately, it’s hard to say the same thing about other equally miniscule habits that could have a positive impact on our lives.

Think about this: How much would your life improve if you were able to add the following: de-cluttering your house, buying your wife flowers while grocery shopping, complimenting a stranger, tracking your daily expenses or eating that darn piece of fruit?

What short five-minute habits can you stack together to change your life? Maybe you want to call your grandmother every Monday and Wednesday. Maybe you want to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables on your way home from work every Thursday. Maybe you would like to park five minutes from work every day so that you can get a few extra minutes of exercise a day. You can also check out Scott’s book to find more short habits you can pick up that can change your life.

 

Register now for an anger management workshop by Dr. Ross Greene on November 14, 2017. Please call Mrs. Schonfeld at 718-382-5437 for more information.

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@gmail.com.