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Author Charles Duhigg Gives Great Advice About ‘The Power of Habits’ For You and Your Kids

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions?

Honestly, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t even made mine yet. I’ve had work, and the kids just went back to school on Monday! Anyway, resolutions can be made all year long. But it’s definitely fun to think about them in January, right? It’s a time for new beginnings.

So I was especially excited to have a phone conversation this week with Charles Duhigg, the brilliant, bestselling author of the book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. It just came out in paperback this week.

He told me exactly why I do what I do, how to stop it, and how to instill good habits in my kids. Also, click to the next page to see his Habit Flowchart. It’s pretty cool–you’ll understand yourself a whole lot better. (And don’t miss this story about 17 Habits of Very Happy Moms.)

KK: Why are habits so hard to break?
CD: I think the reason they’re hard to break is because when most people attack them, they do’t think about the structure of how habits work. At the root of every habit, there’s a 3-step process:
1. Cue: This is like a trigger for the behavior to start.
2. Routine: Going through the motion of the behavior.
3. Reward: Whatever you get out of the habit.

If people don’t think about those cues and rewards, there’s a real disadvantage to try to change things. You can say, ‘I’m going to be thinner,’ but if you don’t sit down and make plans and look at the cues and rewards behind the eating habits, it will be difficult to make progress.

KK: How do we start installing good habits in our young children now? You know, so they don’t watch too much TV, eat too many snacks and yell too much like I do…
CD: The number one thing we can do is help them come up with plans. My son loves the TV show Special Agent Oso. There’s always three steps to solve a problem. So whenever he has an issue, I use that format, and we go through three special steps: Breath, calm down, think. Whatever the three steps are, we make them up on the spot and go through each one. With something like this, you’re teaching them a process for understanding how to react to their own emotions.

That way, when your child (or even you) feel a trigger coming on, you have a plan to deal with it ahead of time. The reward is that you’ll feel more calm and in control. We’re teaching my 5-year-old a structure to deal with emotions that helps him stay in control in the heat of the moment.

A huge amount of success in life comes from learning as a child how to make good habits. It’s good to help kids understand that when they do certain things habitually, they’re reinforcing patterns.

You can give your child an amazing toolbox for designing his own behaviors going forward and having a lot more willpower and self-control.

KK: What are good habits to form for the New Year? How are habits different than resolutions?
CD: Like I said, a resolution is usually like a goal, and a habit is a practical way of getting to that goal. It depends on the mom. Say she wants to exercise more, snack less and be more patient with her kids. What’s the cue for exercising? Put the shoes next to bed? Change into clothes as soon as the sitter shows? And she should give herself a reward after she’s exercised. People who eat a small piece of chocolate after running do it more and enjoy it more. We end up enjoying what we do on a regular basis if we offer ourselves rewards.

KK: Okay, here’s a common bad habit: How do moms who are always on-the-go create good eating habits and stop substituting their kids snacks for meals?
CD: It’s a habit I had, too. It’s very hard to resist. Those snacks are designed to be really yummy. My advice is to anticipate. When people have a willpower failure, it’s because they haven’t anticipated a situation that’s going to come along. So put a plate of carrots out with the nuggets. Or have your own meal with your kids meal, or eat your own snack before you feed them. Anticipate that moment ahead of time and it makes it much easier to resist.

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