20130603-220447.jpgSidebar: I’ve decided that Tuesdays are going to be the day I post about a book that I’m reading/have read, and why I think it’s worthwhile. But it’s not going to be a book review (because those be boring) – rather, it’s going to be a summary of the parts I found interesting…

So you know this moment:

Housespouse: “Honey, how was your day?”

Breadwinner: “Fine thanks. Actually – more than fine. I dunno. It was like today, something just clicked.”

Here’s something that I hadn’t realized about the just-clicking:

  1. When you learn something new – your brain goes into overdrive.
  2. It’s busily laying down fresh neural pathways for new techniques and patterns.
  3. And then, after a while, that learning process becomes a learned process.
  4. You know what to expect, how to deal with it, and you … stop thinking about it.

As Mr Duhigg points out: those patterns have become “habits” – and life calms into a series of cues, routines and rewards. One magnificent feedback loop of mindlessness. Or, in other words:

Habits are the brain’s way of being efficient.

Learning to Drive

An example of thought process (from when I was first behind a wheel):

  • I can do this
  • Step 1: insert clutch
  • Then release handbrake
  • okay no…rolling backward…
  • pull up handbrake
  • sherbet that was close
  • Right – insert clutch
  • gear into first
  • hand on handbrake
  • foot on accelerator
  • release clutch slowly
  • releas…
  • dammit I stalled
  • *restarts car*

Here is my thought process today:

  • …I like this song…
  • Do I look like an idiot dancing to this song in the car? Look at that woman. She’s looking at me. I swear that’s judgment.
  • Bitch.

It’s become a habit.

I respond to cues (a red light going green), my body kicks into routine (releasing handbrakes and clutches and such), and I get rewarded with a smooth rise of acceleration.

The same thing happens when we start a new job, or go on holiday to a new place, or something similar: you tend to get exhausted because your brain is furiously calibrating cues and routines and desired outcomes. And then one day it gets easier, because you need to think less about what you’re doing.

Of course – this is also the dangerous part. Two reasons:

  1. Not every situation does well on autopilot (example: pedal to the metal as soon as the light goes green…is possibly not the best thing); and
  2. Once bad habits are formed, they take some getting rid of.

The Habit Feedback Loop when it comes to Personal Finance

Here is the feedback loop:

Cue -> Routine -> Reward

Here is a habit loop when it comes to tax return time:

  • Cue: panic as someone mentions a tax return deadline
  • Routine: buy a chocolate
  • Reward: eat a chocolate

Here is another one:

  • Cue: panic as someone mentions a tax return deadline
  • Routine: do something else to forget about it
  • Reward: forgets about it

It’s no way to live. And it’s why you should read this book – because it has a really great section on how to use all this newfound knowledge to mould your current habits into better ones*.

*It involves identifying the cue and the reward, and changing the routine – I found it incredibly helpful. Okay – not really. But it made a lot of sense. And at least I’m more thoughtful about my lack of thought in some situations…