Saturday, September 1, 2012

Over Time

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. True? Change can be difficult but I think most of us have adapted to many different things over the years (my last post on doing garbage a notable example!) Another word for it could be habits. Some habits are pretty much ingrained - try brushing your teeth with the opposite hand for instance (apparently good to do to get into places normally missed because of brushing the same old way day in and day out but more difficult than you might think. Try it sometime). But I digress...

My reading tastes have changed over the years and maybe that's not a habit per se but I used to look for certain authors or genres (murder mysteries specifically) and would stick pretty close to that. I'm not sure when I started branching out into other types of literature but it backs up the point of the book I'm currently reading called "The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in Life and Business" by Charles Duhigg. The premise is that we can change. The author talks about the habit loop: cue, routine, reward and that the key to changing one's habit is to change the routine. Keep the cue and the reward but change our response to the cues. So, using my limited reading interest as an example, somewhere along the line I was motivated to try other genres and still received satisfaction of reading a well-written book and voila! A new habit came into being. (Although Charlene still bemoans my lack of knowledge of certain genres but all is not lost. Adam Bede by George Eliot is also in my current stack of reading.)

I've also thought about corporate habits. Last Sunday Doug challenged us to pick a couple of Sundays per month and start making eye contact with people at church (or at work), specifically with people we don't normally engage with. Personally, it's a great challenge but I don't think it will necessarily be an easy task for most of us. On the face of it, it's not difficult but we're fighting many things: our individual inclination to stick with what we know, our personal space and comfort zones, our fear of reaching out to someone we don't know, and there are probably as many other reasons as people why this might take some time to develop. I think of some of my friends who absolutely loathe the Sunday morning greeting time that takes place in most evangelical churches on any given Sunday. Part of what they dislike is having to be told to be friendly to someone and to shake hands with people sitting around them. This maybe isn't so bad when you're sitting amongst friends and let's face it, we do tend to sit in the same place with the same people, week after week. What if we were to change that and start doing it because we want to get to know new people and not because we were told to? What a concept!

Think of how the habit loop works with this example: cue (you see someone new walking into the foyer or sitting on the pew beside you); routine (avoid eye contact; act busy, read bulletin, see someone familiar to talk to); reward (hmm? What could be the reward for ignoring people? There must be one or else we wouldn't do it, thinking, thinking. Got it! Whew, didn't have to come up with small talk or try to think of what to say or remember a name I'm bound to forget... nope, that's all I can think of at the moment.) But might there not also be a tiny bit of guilt in that (or shouldn't there be?) What about if the routine was changed to: introduce yourself, shake hands, find something out about them/why they're here, etc (and who cares if they've been coming for 3 months and you've never talked to them before? Get over it already!) And this time the reward might be: (hey, nice people, should have them over, wonder if they're in a care group, I should introduce them to ...) except this residual guilt for pretending you didn't see them and you did it before being told to!

Over time, this habit could change the culture of our church, or yours. September is a good time to incorporate some new routines, don't you think? Who's with me? What kind of responses do you want to change to the cues in your life - personal and/or corporate?


Jane said...

You talkin to me?

Carolyn said...

Actually, no! Unless of course, you felt a little twinge...but I was including myself in the whole scenario because I'm also quite content on too many occasions to keep my head down. Alas.

Judy said...

If you are changing habits using "cue, routine, reward" then it seems to me you need to identify your "cue, routine, reward" and be INTENTIONAL to change "routine". Is that correct? Should I read the book? LOL
Judy Kwiatkowski

Carolyn said...

Hi Judy, yes, that's absolutely right. But identifying the cue & reward isn't necessarily easy to figure out without a bit of awareness, observation & tracking of one's routine. This book kind of reminded me of "Outliers" by William Gladwell which was also a fascinating read. So if you've read that one, I think you'd probably like this one too (and he does give some guidelines as to how to identify cues without it being a 1-2-3 step, now it's solved and you're cured approach).