About a year ago my friend Ken pointed me at the book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. I finally got around to finishing it, and I’m finally getting around to writing about it, although I don’t think I’ll ever get around to finishing thinking about it. I’d made a post on Facebook about some habits I’d been making and Ken recommended the book and I picked it up, and so did my wife.
I started paying close attention to the behaviors I had fairly early in life, around 10 years old or so, when I ‘figured out’ I wasn’t human and needed to learn how to fit in so the townsfolk wouldn’t discover and burn me on a pyre. It all started with a close call when one of the young humans noticed I had to touch things equally with both hands to balance out the sensation. But that’s another story.
Last spring I’d decided that I really needed to get serious and lose some weight and I decided there ought to be a good app for my phone to track calories. I downloaded and began to use “myfitnesspal” to track how much I was eating and the progress of my weight. I knew I consumed way more than I should but didn’t know, really, how to change it. The strange thing was that in keeping track of what I ate with the app I was able to put the brakes on the amounts and types of food I was eating very easily. I’d know that if I got seconds for dinner I’d be way over my goal and was easily able to pass on the extras I’d normally have between meals. Within 6 months I was down 30 pounds without even really noticing that I’d missed much. I still drank the occasional soda, but stuck to mediums instead of larges when I ate out. And I ate out less frequently than I had been.
In the book it talks about habit cycles, the que->routine->reward cycle that people slip into. In my case, dealing with being bipolar and not being able to be medicated, led to the creation of a lot of habits, and the eating ones are fairly problematic. Early on in my diagnosis and treatment it was impressed upon me that i needed to eat regular meals and stop skipping them because I didn’t feel like eating. This habit had a couple effects on me. I ended up eating all the time whether I was hungry or not, which led to weight gain, but it also kept me eating through the cancer treatments no matter how sick I got, so kind of a mixed blessing.
To modify an already present habit the book says to recognize the que that triggers the habit and then to alter the routine that will lead you to a reward. Looking back at what I did with my app was inserting a step where I recorded what I was planning on eating and modified the amount or type of food I was consuming to stay within constraints I had set. I didn’t improve the quality of my meals as much as just recognized where I stood in relation to my goals, but in the end it had the desired effect.
Around the middle of last November I got smacked by the usual winter depression that seems to come with the shorter days. This year it seemed to be worse than it had been in a long time and I ended up abandoning all caloric tracking. It’s kind of a survival method I’ve got where I jettison all the excess baggage and just concentrate on making it through the next day. I’m not sure it’s a healthy habit, but it’s one that has kept me around this long. The surprising thing was that the habits I’d built over the previous seven or eight months didn’t suffer too much. I gained back seven pounds I’d lost as I overindulged in the holiday snacks, but despite the occasional overindulgence new routines held up despite my lack of supervision.
Now that it’s spring and the depression has mostly passed I really need to fix some of the habits that died over the winter. Somehow I’ve just been wasting my evenings in front of the computer or the TV (with a tablet in hand). I’ve needed to get back into the studio and get back to creating, or doing yard work, or exercising. It’s things I plan to do all day, but somehow lack the gumption to go after once I get off work. I suppose I need to look at the que in the evening that gets me on the couch and replace it with actually accomplishing something.