Experiment with failure to change habits
In the Afterword of the bestselling book The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg shares success stories from readers who were able to change their habits and writes that “(the) process of experimentation — and failure — is critical in long-term habit change.” In other words, there is no magic tool that works for everyone. The key to changing a habit is to continue trying different things until something sticks.
Students who read Duhigg’s book in an effort to change their own habits can find the Afterword especially vexing after 281 pages of habit dissection that outline various studies demonstrating the benefits of willpower, including a 2005 study that shows self-disciplined students outperformed their peers on every academic-performance variable. But the book is aptly titled The Power of Habit, and not How to Change Habits.
In their quests for change, readers can at least begin the experimentation process by recognizing the cues, routines and rewards Duhigg identifies as the three components that make up “the habit loop”.
A cue is a signal that prompts an unwanted routine, which provides an immediate reward. After a few cycles of the habit loop, these cues can illicit strong cravings. For example, a student who spends more time than they’d like online instead of in a textbook can find that the ping of their phone signalling a new message has been received (the cue) prompts them to spend hours on social media (the routine) to receive the social interaction (reward) that they soon begin to crave on a regular basis.
After identifying the cues, routines and rewards of a habit loop, the process of changing a habit starts by experimenting with alternative routines that can satisfy the same cravings for the same rewards. In the example above, the student can replace time online with face-to-face conversations, which are less likely to turn into all-night Internet binges but still satisfy the need for social interaction.
Like reading a book only to find that it doesn’t have the answers you’re looking for, changing a habit can be a lengthy and frustrating process but the point is that it is possible. Students may just need to start by trying a different book.