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Habit forming and habit breaking

October 1st, 2012 at 07:23 pm

Living in Dubai, I can't listen to radio shows, and TV from the US is non-existent except for prime time stuff on Netflix that I mostly don't watch. My solution is to download and listen to podcasts.

I was listening to one podcast - I don't remember the show, but probably Dave Ramsey or Clark Howard - and the host and author were talking about how we do things by habit. They said that if we can change our habits, we can change the way we do things. There were couple of interesting points that the hosts made that got me thinking.

The first point was that occasional rewards followed by multiple non-rewards actually cause a compulsion to do the action that may or may not be rewarded more than a constant reward or non-existent reward would cause. The author used video games and slot machines as his examples, and stated that cigarette companies vary the amount of nicotine cigarette-to-cigarette, as well, to give the user only an occasional "fix." Whether any of this is true about intentionally doing the occasional reward to get more response doesn't really matter. I think that it makes sense that an occasional reward does cause you to appreciate it more and therefore do it more. We stop playing tic-tac-toe once we realize you can never win against an opponent who plays correctly, or other kids' video games because they are too simple and you never lose.

The second point that caught my attention was that you have triggers that cause you to do the habitual behavior. The author used getting ready for work in the morning as the example. If you're like me, you do your morning routine in order, and if you vary the order, you're likely to forget something. I can remember going to work without a belt on occasion for varying my order of prepping and dressing.

Why am I posting this here? Because I think I can use this to my advantage both to eliminate some of my bad habits, and possibly to develop some good habits.

I drink many too many carbonated beverages. Every morning, I take one out to the car with me. For the last two weeks or so, I've made the effort NOT to take one with me. The first couple of times, it was hard. Now, I don't even miss the drive-time caffeine. Also, I have to force myself not to open one as soon as I arrive at work. This is just a start to get me to change my behavior. I think it would also work to eliminate the "coffee cup cigarette" or "mid-morning sweet roll" or whatever compulsion item one of you readers might be experiencing.

The author mentioned that you need to get a trigger to do a new habit. I'm trying to figure out a way to apply this "habit" to my finances. In reality, though, I think I've already got a good balance where this is concerned. My wife and I have our weekly "date night," which means we go out somewhere and have a nice dinner and drinks, but don't splurge. We've had only one splurge in the nine months we've been here in Dubai. The splurge was intentional and planned weeks in advance, so it really wasn't so much a splurge as a reward. We frankly needed a nice night out with friends, so we set aside a few dollars to enjoy without guilt.

What kind of trigger can I set up to avoid my soda? Or more precisely, can I identify the triggers that cause me to crave the soda and then eliminate the need? Time will tell. Also, what financial behaviors might I be able to develop? I already do the month-beginning transfers, investments, payments, etc. I don't really know if there's anything else I can do on that front.

6 Responses to “Habit forming and habit breaking”

  1. snafu Says:

    There is a famous study that proved individuals could adopt good behaviors with conscious repetition for 21 days. Routine is very helpful and has potential to make you more efficient. So many people insist they can't master the process but if you can remember to brush your teeth every morning you can create an effective daily routine which includes an element to make you happy.

    I'm certain you change negative behaviors in the same way people quit smoking. I hope you remember that your body will react to the withdrawal of caffeine with various symptoms. It's easier to reduce consumption by one cup a day than 'cold turkey.' After 24-48 hours you may get a reaction like headaches, feel irritable, chilled, less alert, moody/cranky, fatigued, restless or even sinus issues. Give yourself a planned reward after 7 caffeine free days since those annoying symptoms will have dissipated.

    We always take a bottle of icy cold water having added a few tablespoons of lemon or orange juice for a hint of flavor to substitute for caffeine.

  2. Wino Says:

    I have definitely not gone cold turkey on this. I have only eliminated the drive-time cola and the upon-arrival cola. Today, I think I've had only one, and it is nearly 2:00 pm. For me, that's like going from two packs a day to 5 cigarettes per day.

    And this is only two weeks in. If I can reduce my intake further, I may be able to fully ween myself off the habit. As I said, time will tell.

  3. North Georgia Gal Says:

    I too am trying to ween myself off of soda. Today is the first day that I didn't stop and get one on the way to work.

  4. rob62521 Says:

    It is difficult to give up sodas, but you have a great start. When you give them entirely and decide to have one, you will find them odd tasting and too sweet. Good luck as you break your habit.

  5. Wino Says:

    We also have these half cans that come 35 or 40 to a case. I buy and use these, as well, to cut down on volume. I have already cut my intake to about 1/4 of what it was three weeks ago. I hope to get it down further, even if I don't cut it out entirely.

  6. Wino Says:

    Today I have had two sodas, a whole box of juice, three bottles of water, and a red bull. There's no way I can give up the red bulls at the same time. I hope that my headaches from the caffeine withdrawal end soon.

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