That’s how a habit is developed according to Charles Duhigg the author of the bestselling book the power of habit. In his book, he gives various examples of marketing strategies, sports tactics and personal stories of people who managed to change their habits for achieving excellence. The story of one of the best NFL coaches in history Tony Dungy resonates with me in particular. Dungy, after losing 4 job interviews from pro-NFL teams finally cracked one with Tampa Bay in 1996. He would drag Tampa Bay Buccaneers out from a decade of losing. How did he do it? He used habits to change the fate of the team. By targeting the Action part of the Queue → Action → Reward system. He focused on being the quickest team, Dungy managed to automatize the playbook and drastically improve the speed of play of his team. He did this by building upon already existing queues of individual players which had been developed through years of practice. With this understanding of human psychology and his experience as a coach, he would later go on to win the Super Bowl with the Colts as the head coach.
This knowledge of habit formation has profound implications in all aspects of life. But here I wish to propose to you as to how you can use this knowledge of habit formation to make yourself healthier. In the modern age, all of us are addicted to something. Let it be coffee, sugar or just your food. Now how can you use this in your favour?
Here is an example of using coffee as your chosen poison.
Queue, → You put the coffee for brewing
Action → TABATA interval (4 min exercise routine) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Euu12r5x5C4
Reward → Nice cup of freshly brewed coffee.
What this does is that after performing the 4-minute TABATA session you add the rush of endorphins to the mix along with the reward of caffeine. By doing so you not only use the present queue of brewing a coffee but also change action to benefit yourself in the long run. You are rewarded by the double effect of endorphins and caffeine. It will take close to 5 days of training until you see a drastic reduction in the mental effort required to start your change. On top of that ingesting caffeine after exercise has shown to result in faster recovery and better mental performance.(Cappelletti et al. 2015)
You can apply this method to anything. For example, doing 20 squats before any meal. Playing a physical activity with your kids/parents. One of my professors took boxing lessons with his son and would later grab ice cream with him, an amazing idea. Within this framework, you can be creative. You are trying to hack your habits and addictions to work in your favour not against.
This is not limited to just health habits. You can use this concept for achieving/learning anything. In my time as a football coach for U15, I often have amazing players with raw talent. Often the difference between young talented individuals and complete players is the ability to make the right decisions at the right time. One of the biggest factors in making this decision is the awareness of your surroundings. Young players often struggle with tunnel vision i.e. they focus on the ball too much and not on the complete field. If you see top players like Xavi, Iniesta & Messi they are always scanning their surroundings. The challenge is how do you build this into in-game habits. What I asked my team to do was to play 2 touch football and check your shoulder (look away from the ball on the field) every time a pass is played by anyone on the field. This meant they had to always be looking for a teammate and position themselves to play quick passes. The possession rate, movement off the ball and even technical ability increased drastically after just a period of 2 months. By isolating this keystone habit of looking around we managed to drastically improve numerous aspects of performance.
Similarly, you can identify and hack your keystone habits in order to have a knock-on effect to make drastic changes in your life in a comparatively short period of time.
The Power of Habit – by Charles Duhigg
Cappelletti, Simone, Piacentino Daria, Gabriele Sani, and Mariarosaria Aromatario. 2015. “Caffeine: Cognitive and Physical Performance Enhancer or Psychoactive Drug?” Current Neuropharmacology. https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159×13666141210215655.