Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

How To Change The Habit Of Stress

The Habit Loop

The Habit Loop

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity Part 6

Prior to his stroke, David was living a life of corporate idolatry, where the company was the top priority to the detriment of his health and family.  After the stroke, David changed his values, and refocused his personal identity.  He was in the habit of deriving positive reinforcement from job-related activities, and shifted his focus to family related activities.  Remembering that a significant portion of idolatry derives from a collection of habits is an important clue to change.

In his book The Power Of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that in a typical habit, there is some kind of cue that triggers a behavior that has a reward at the end of it.  For example, if someone puts a plate of cookies on the table in front of me, I will take and eat the cookie, even though I am trying to lose weight.  The cue is the cookie, the behavior is eating, and the reward is a burst of pleasure and sugar.  In addition, when my brain sees the cookies, it anticipates the pleasure, and I start craving the cookie, such that it becomes harder and harder over time not to take a cookie.

Habits are mediated by a primitive part of the brain called the basal ganglia which operates independently of rational, cognitive thought.  In other words, a habit is similar to a reflex, something we just do without thinking.  The best way to change a habit  is to disrupt one of the three stages of a habit, which means avoid the cue, change the middle behavior, or change the reward.

In David’s case, the work stress became a self fulfilling prophecy.  For example, Duhigg explains that checking email becomes a habit.  Executives get a reward from the temporary distraction a new email provides.  For me, I got an adrenaline burst from all kinds of work-related issues, and I think that was David’s issue.  The rewards for his people first values were calm and peace.

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  1. Greg Marcus says

    My book Busting Your Corporate Idol often sparks discussion. If this post sparks a thought, an easy way to share is to email the link.


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