There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?”
The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What is water?”
David Foster Wallace told his students this joke and Charles Duhigg uses it to illustrate how we use habits to navigate life in the book, The Power of Habit.
Water in the analogy, is our habits – the choices we make consciously at first, and later automatically; they are invisible choices that surround us every day and which, just by looking at them, become visible again.
Habits can be changed and replaced if we know the triggers and are invested in the process. Change isn’t easy but it’s possible.
There are 4 steps involved in changing habits:
- Identify the routine: being conscious about the existing habit and the loop you’re in right now – what you do, when you do it, why you think you do it, what you get out of it.
- Experiment with different rewards: this can be a series of tests you give yourself to see if you can find achieve similar results by making other decisions – can you get the reward in another way. Is there a healthier way to achieve a good feeling associated with the habit you are trying to break?
- Isolate the cue: Identify categories of behaviors to seek out the patterns surrounding your habit: Where you are, time of day, how you’re feeling, who else is around you and what you did right before the action. Being conscious of the patterns allows you put plans in place to change your situation.
- Have a plan: bad habits are best overcome when they are replaced with good ones so you need to have an alternative
Other favorite quotes from The Power of Habit are:
- Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.
- Sometimes an unstable peace can be as destructive as any civil war.
- When a habit emerges, the brains stops fully participating in decision making; it stops working so hard or diverts focus to other tasks, so unless you deliberately fight a habit – find new routines – the pattern will unfold automatically.
- The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.
- Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.
- Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.
- Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking to a budget. It’s not that a tidy bed causes better grades or less frivolous spending, but somehow, those initial shifts start a chain reaction that help other good habits take hold.
The Power of Habit is honestly a great read. Click the image below to purchase a copy yourself if you need some help changing a habit.