The Discovery of the Habit Fork

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Each action you take daily is a choice you make between two or more options. You either go for a run in the morning, or use that time to squeeze in some more sleep, crunch on artificial sugary products or choose healthy alternatives like fruits, start up a new project or take up a new hobby you have been planning or delay it further by doing something that’s irrelevant to your goals but is ‘oh so fun’ and has you hooked to it.

When I tried to move away from one such old habit I noticed myself contemplating over the rewards of the habituated activity (in this case an old habit like munching on wafers, gulping down sugary sweets or watching long runs of TV shows) whenever I was confronted with a fork in the road.

a fork – a point where you decide between two options, often between what is easy and what is difficult, which is, between what you would like to do or usually do, and what you really want to do and should be doing

It is a mental process that we don’t normally pay attention to, but when you have just finished reading a book like The Power of Habit, which gives you insights into the workings of yer noggins, it is hardly easy not to, especially when you are trying to restructure your entire lifestyle. Here, a fork is a normal confrontation between old and new, where new is – me trying to adopt a healthy, sustainable and consistent way of life. So, what is this fork?

I found myself calculating the opportunity costs. I was unknowingly focusing on what rewards I might miss out on if I replace that (old) habit…” and then I wondered, ” What am I doing? Weighing the pros and cons of A and B? What if I miss out on A?” I was fearing losing out on something the old habit promised, which was hindering my effort take on B (the new habit I was trying to build).

If you look at the road as the entire day, from morning to evening, then each fork is a crossroads at which you are faced with a choice which determines what you do next. Example, choosing sleep over an early morning exercise routine.

This I would consider as a habit fork, where you are not only faced with a choice whether to give in to the old habits taking the easy way out or trying your best to focus on the new habit, which is the activity you have planned (and really want) to carry out, but also confronted with the rewards that accompany each path.

While working, you might be tempted to take the break at an earlier time either to avoid the tiring task or because you are imagining the mouthwatering ‘chocolate chip cookie‘ that waits for you on the other end of the counter.

procrastination over time gets cultivated into a habit that makes you put off things which are very important even for things which hardly matter

That maybe a habit fork for you – which side you fall on determines whether you succumb to old behavioral patterns or manage to take a new positive action which when done consistently could help you to cultivate a new habit.

The choices with immediate rewards are far more appealing and also the opportunity cost of not going down that route and missing out on what you get, plays a major role in subverting the other path(new good habit) which you ought to be taking.

The reward, be it the experience of watching an exciting television show or a cricket match, feels far more alluring than the tediousness that entails the work we are otherwise supposed to do, be it writing a blog post or creating a detailed report or anything else that you have to work on.

This secondary activity has a long term reward to it, which takes time and patience to cultivate and a longer duration to really feel and sense the growth or the rewards associated with them.

Another element that plays role in affecting ones choice is the (cultivated) tendency of delaying the tough choices, one with lesser(long term) rewards. This in turn results in generating a habit loop that makes you more vulnerable to falling into older habits.

this book could determine which roads lie in your future

For example, procrastination over time gets cultivated into a habit that makes you put off things which are very important even for things which hardly matter. You may delay an important task for few hours of gaming, or sacrifice your sleep due to your late night movie watching habit. There are various triggers (or cues) that may lead you to doing those things, external-which maybe the time of the day or internal- your emotional state.

A time trigger will be a particular period of the day and what you are used to doing during in that time frame(watching a movie at night before sleeping) and a mental trigger could be a low emotional state wherein you would be more likely to dive into a game for few hours of exciting escape.

The rewards for such tasks are immediate and more alluring than the rewards for the task which require more commitment, consistency and long term dedication. And when you have already gathered some habits, anticipating the rewards (emotional escape from movies or thrill from video games) makes those paths/choices much more tempting than the alternatives.

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P.S. This post is partly inspired and influenced by the insights revealed in the book The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change by Charles Duhigg. We will be reviewing the book in detail soon, so look forward to learning more and finding out why this book could determine which roads lie in your future. 

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