Believe it or not, both of these scenarios involve one thing: habits.
According to research compiled in the book Habit, by Charles Duhigg the habit loop involves three stages: the cue, the routine, and the reward. What makes it so difficult for us (and monkey’s) is that once a habit loop is ingrained and subsequently set in motion, a craving emerges that must be fullfilled or else irritability, frustration, or depression take hold.
The Good News. You can replace a disempowering habit by changing your routine or the cues (ie. putting your running clothes by the bedside to cue yourself to run each morning) or what you choose to reward yourself with.
My goal is to work on my habit of overeating—which I tend to do the most when at a restaurant. Maybe it’s the physical sensation I get of feeling full (even though it is often uncomfortable to be so full) or the emotional reward of good company—either way my goal over the next two weeks is to explore 1) what exactly causes me to overeat—is it specific foods, specific restaurants, the company of specific people and 2) what reward am I associating with overeating?
How does this relate to Phelps you say? Have you noticed that Michael Phelps always has a headset on before his matches. Did you also notice that he flaps his arms around himself three times before getting ready to jump into the pool? These rituals are the habits he has been practicing since he was a young boy. Habits encourage peak performance, for when split seconds count—like in swimming races, a person with highly ingrained habits will default to them and often be faster than someone who has to stop and think about their next move.
Like anything else—habits can be empowering or destructive. Which disempowering habit can you replace with an empowering habit? How would this change your life?
Lesson: We are the sum of our habitual actions. Take control and implement new routines when faced with old cues or create healthier rewards. Who knows—this could set you on a track to become the next Michael Phelps :-).