Finally over my cold, I did sleep past 4 in the morning last night, helped by a late night out the night before. But I’m in the habit of waking up at 6:20am, usually 7 days a week, thanks to my kids, early risers that they are. (I do miss the occasional chance to sleep until noon).
Habits are interesting things. The New York Times recently ran an article about Dr. Val Curtis, an anthropologist living in Burkina Faso who is currently the director of the Hygiene Center at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Dr. Curtis has enlisted the help of the some of the world’s leading consumer product companies in an effort to double the rate of hand-washing in Ghana. If this can be achieved, it could significantly decrease transmission rates of diarrhea and other fatal disease caused by poor hygiene. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the same companies that have taught us to need blister packs of gum, branded detergent, and Swiffers could apply these same techniques to teach people habits that save lives? And where do we draw the line if, along the way, this results in pushing a particular brand of hand soap, maybe one that costs a little more than another option?
A lot of how we go through our days is about habits. By repeating certain actions — drinking a morning coffee, brushing our teeth, smoking cigarettes, or checking a Blackberry — we condition ourselves to do and expect certain things. I think this is why making real personal change can be so difficult.
On the other hand, think about the power of simply practicing a new behavior. What if you wanted to get better at being kinder or listening more? Why not start by practicing, by the simple act of repetition? Start small. Say ‘good morning’ to the person you see in the lobby every morning where you work. Spend two weeks turning off the TV at 9pm. Make a point of looking people in the eye when they talk to you.
We are the way we go through the world. What behaviors are you practicing?