For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15 ESV)
Why do we persist in doing what we don’t want to do? Why do we bite our nails, eat in front of the television, and check our social media compulsively? Habits. Habits are patterns of behaviour imprinted so deeply on our brain that they function without conscious thought.
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains the habit cycle and suggests ways to co-opt that cycle for good.
A habit loop consists of three elements.
- Cue: This is something that triggers the habit. For an overeater this might be sitting in front of the television.
- Routine: This is the content of the habit—smoking, drinking, eating, name your vice.
- Reward: This is the feeling of satisfaction you receive when the habit is temporarily satiated.
The more times we run a certain routine, the deeper the habit is ingrained in lives.
The key to changing these is understanding what triggers the cue and substituting a different routine that delivers the same reward. Say the bad habit is biting your nails. The trigger might be boredom when you have spare time. Substituting a healthier routine such as having a book on hand to reach for may give you the same sense of satisfaction as a set of nails closely bitten.
Duhigg doesn’t stop with personal habits, he carries the theme on to the organizational habits. What cue-routine-reward cycles do we mindlessly run through in our churches?
Changing habits is hard work, but understanding how they work is a healthy first step on the path.
—Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business (Toronto, ON: Anchor Canada, 2012).