Hat-Railings & Other Habits

The Power of Habit

Sometime in the 1890s, William James wrote The Laws of Habit. He could easily have been talking about the Enneagram:

Ninety-nine hundredths or, possibly, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousandths of our activity is purely automatic and habitual, from our rising in the morning to our lying down each night. Our dressing and undressing, our eating and drinking, our greetings and partings, our hat-railings and giving way for ladies to precede, nay, even most of the forms of our common speech, are things of a type so fixed by repetition as almost to be classed as reflex actions. To each sort of impression we have an automatic, ready-made response.

Not too long ago, I caught the end of an interview on NPR with Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. He was summarizing what scientists refer to as the habit loop, a three-part process that consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward.

Throughout my life, I’ve made countless failed attempts to develop a morning exercise routine. I’ve never had any trouble exercising in the afternoon–or even fairly late in the evening (it never kept me from sleeping). But, no matter how hard and how many times I tried to exercise in the morning, I’ve never been able to do it. Until now, anyway. All of a sudden, and without any pain or resistance, I seem to have developed a morning exercise routine. In fact, I now prefer doing it at that time of day. I thought maybe I could look through the lens of the habit loop to try to understand what’s going on.

My mornings have been fairly routinized ever since I moved out of my parents’ house. Because I’m decidedly not a morning person, I want to delay having to think about what I’m doing until after I’ve had breakfast and, more importantly, my first cup of coffee. When I’m finished with everything else, just before I head into my office to start working, I always do five minutes of stretching. As it turns out, cues can be intentional or unintentional, and without any awareness or intention on my part, my five minutes of stretching has become the cue for me to either go out for a walk or put on my workout clothes and head over to the fitness room.

The reward was the easiest thing to figure out. It’s the burst of energy and sense of well-being I feel at the end of a walk or a hike or a session in the fitness room. All three parts of the habit loop are in place. Cue: five minutes of stretching. Routine: walking or working out. Reward: feeling great.

Very useful. But then Duhigg said that in order to create a new habit, we need to determine what our reward will be—and the reward could be physical, mental, or emotional. Aha! I instantly saw how the reward might relate to the three centers of the Enneagram. As a Doing type with a Thinking wing, the most effective rewards for me are physical first (feeling energized after a workout) and mental second (a sense of accomplishment). Emotional rewards are actually difficult for me to conceive of. Satisfaction comes to mind, but that seems to be more mental than emotional.

I was talking about this with a friend who’s a 6w7, and she said she’s tried to set up physical rewards for herself, but they weren’t really effective. Mental rewards, on the other hand, such as getting to work a Sudoku puzzle, are highly effective. I also spoke with a friend who’s a 2, and he was surprised I couldn’t think of an emotional reward. Joy was one of the first things that came to mind for him.

I wonder if understanding our Enneagram type and knowing which kind of reward is likely to be most effective—physical, mental, or emotional—could make altering or creating habits easier.

Does anyone know what “hat-railings” are, by the way?

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One response to “Hat-Railings & Other Habits

  1. Pingback: Five Reasons Why You Should Explore the Enneagram | Nine Paths

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