This new series is guest blogged by Doug Logan.
Doug Logan is an Adjunct Professor of Sports Management, at New York University.
He was the CEO for USATF from 2008 until September 2010.
He was also the CEO, President and Commissioner for Major League Soccer from 1995 to 1999. To read more about his background and involvement in Track, Soccer, Rugby and the Music industry, read my Freelap Friday Five Interview
This is his 32nd article. Click here for his entire series.
SHIN SPLINTS 2014
Cues, Routines and Rewards
Happy New Year!
‘Tis the season for new beginnings, closet cleaning, list making, makeovers, re-invention, wardrobe retrofitting, health-club joining, contact-list purging and nutritional changes. The dreaded time for the New Year’s Resolutions. Those commitments we make to changes in our lives. And, for most of us, these changes will die a slow death within 30 days.
This exercise in behavior modification usually revolves around our habits. We either want to acquire a new, constructive habit or eliminate an existing, destructive habit. By habit I mean those behaviors that are conducted regularly and so often that they become virtually involuntary.
“Most of the choices we make each day may seem like the product of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we order, what we say to our kids each night, whether we save or spend, how often we exercise, and the way we organize our thoughts and work-routines have enormous impacts on our health, productivity, financial security and happiness. One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.”
So wrote New York Times award-winning business reporter Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, published in 2012. This entertaining read explains why habits exist and how they can be changed. In 1892, William James wrote, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” Do you open the refrigerator every time you walk past it? Do you always order the fries with the burger? Do you throw your clothes on the same chair when you disrobe? Do you have a drink every night when you get home from work?
Duhigg shows how coaching good habits made Tony Dungy a Superbowl winner in the NFL. He explains how examining the habits of women as they went through their housekeeping routines made Procter and Gamble’s marketing programs for Fabreze a $1B new product. He shows how Alcoholics Anonymous is able to break destructive drinking habits. And tells how the right habits were crucial to the success of the Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps.
The basis for all habits is a three step sequence that Duhigg calls the “habit loop”. It consists of three elements: a cue, the routine and a reward. The cue is a “trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use”. The routine can be physical, mental or emotional. The reward “helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.”
Let me use a personal example of a habit loop. I have developed the habit of walking five miles every day after breakfast. The cue for my habit is laying out my walking clothes the night before so they are the first thing I see in the morning. Once dressed, I am on my way to my routine. My reward is logging my walk on my data base when I am finished. That sense of accomplishment gives my habit “worth.”
Duhigg makes another important point. “When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit-unless you find new routines-the pattern will unfold automatically.” He suggests that breaking a bad habit involves a substitute for the routine rather than trying to eliminate the entire loop.
I did some investigation on the subject of how long you have to perform a task before it gets ingrained as a habit. The estimates are all over the lot; from 18 to 254 days in a row. The study I respect the most was conducted by P. Lally and reported in the European Journal of Social Psychology which suggests that a behavior repeated 66 days in a row becomes a lifetime habit. Ann Grabiel at MIT studied taking a reward away from a test animal for a long stretch of time after a habit pattern was established. Once the reward is reintroduced, the rats revert immediately to their habitual behavior.
Habits generally emerge without our permission. We don’t intend to eat greasy, salty fast food. We don’t want to sit on the couch rather than exercise. We don’t plan to max out our credit cards. But, as a pointed Spanish proverb states, “Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables.”
So, enjoy this seasonal exercise in rebirth. This is the month that health clubs get rich. They sell more memberships than the other eleven months combined and then watch the diminishing attendance. The depressing truth is we will not get fit or wealthy or healthy or thin in a month. It takes a thorough examination of our habit loops and fighting to replace them. By the way, 66 days from January 1st is the 7th of March.