Tag Archive for: Habit

Humans Think When Habit Won’t Do

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting through the Principles of Persuasion (POP) Workshop in Phoenix, Arizona once again. Even though I’ve taught this workshop more than 50 times it was a great refresher and exposed me to the new look, feel, and studies for the workshop upgrade.

Greg Neidert, Ph.D., led this POP for people from across the globe. Like Dr. Robert Cialdini, Dr. Neidert was a psychology professor at Arizona State University for many decades. He let attendees know the workshop distills more than 50 hours of classroom teaching into the most essential elements of persuasion in a two-day format. To say that trying to absorb that much information makes your brain tired would be an understatement!

Speaking of your tired brain, Dr. Neidert made a comment that caught my attention. He told us, “Humans think when habit won’t do.” Consider that for a moment – we think when habit won’t do.

Thinking is hard work. You don’t have to be a bricklayer to come home exhausted from work. Many of you reading this have office jobs but you can still feel wiped out at the end of a long day. Why? Henry Ford put it best when he said, “Thinking is some of the hardest work there is and that’s why so few people do it.”

Why is “thinking” so hard? You may not know it but the human brain is about 2% of the average person’s body weight and yet it consumes about 20% of your caloric intake. If your brain were a car we’d call it a gas hog.

One more interesting fact about your brain’s energy use – when you’re engaged in active, logical thinking your brain’s energy consumption rises by about 300%! You won’t feel short of breath but you’ll feel tired after long stretches of focused thought.

When you’re engaged in active thinking it’s hard work and most of us would prefer to not work too hard if we don’t have to. That’s where habits come in. If you consider some of your daily rituals (what you eat for breakfast, how you drive to work, how you start your day in the office, etc.) you’ll see there are very distinct patterns you follow almost automatically. You could say they are habit.

Here’s a personal example. I’m up every day by 4 AM and by 4:15 AM I’m in my basement lifting weights then running on the treadmill. It takes me an hour and a half to complete my workout. Most of the time I find myself falling into patterns doing the same exercises the same way. I could change things up in the moment but 4 AM is awfully early and working out is tiring so I don’t want to think about it! It’s only when I’m away from my gym, when I feel refreshed and relaxed that I even think about how I might change my workout regimen.

Our habits usually serve us well and that’s why we rely on them so much. But that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Just like I take time to reassess my workouts you should take time to consider your habits (routines) because things change over time. Working out as 20 year-old was very different than what I do now because in addition to my body changing now that I’m over 50, my priorities have changed too. You may find that to be the case in your life if you take time to reassess your habits.

I’ve been considering writing a series of posts on how you can use the principles of persuasion to influence your own behavior. When Lydia, a POP attendee from China, asked me how the principles could be used to influence her own behavior it was confirmation that I need to address this topic because others have asked me that same question in the past.

So consider this the first post in the series that will focus on how you can make positive changes – habits – in your life using the principles of influence. Like working out, making changes will require effort because thinking is hard work but I have no doubt you’ll find it very worthwhile professionally and personally.