One morning, 30-year old Lisa Allen awoke disoriented and lit a plastic pen, mistakenly thinking it was a Marlboro cigarette.
A habitual smoker since age 16, the smell of burning plastic jolted her and unleashed a “wave of sadness” she expressed by crying intensely while lying in bed and taking an inventory of her life, featuring a failed marriage and an inability to successful hold jobs for more than a year.
Shortly afterward, sparked into action, Lisa formed a vision of visiting Egypt and making a trek through the desert in about year.
Not an easy vision to fulfill when you’re overweight, in poor physical condition, have an empty savings account, and dim prospects for future success.
Lisa, however, stuck with her guns and kicked off her life-changing efforts by quitting smoking, a habit she’d maintained for nearly half her life.
Lisa Allen’s journey was the first story highlighted in Charles Duhigg’s new book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.
Duhigg, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, examines how our lives and daily actions are strongly-influenced by our habits, such as Lisa’s first instinct to seek the Marlboro when she woke up stressed and anxious that morning.
Now 34, Lisa’s success in quitting smoking and changing what Duhigg described as a “keystone habit” led to a positive domino effect where over 4 years, she lost 60 pounds, bought a home, started a master’s degree, found career success, and even ran a marathon.
One of the reasons why the scientists cited in Duhigg’s book liked Lisa was that they were able to clearly see the parts of the brain warehousing her old and new habits, and how the new habits overrode the old ones over time.
The Power of Habit is a good read, balancing personal storytelling with relevant scientific and sociological research.
And yes, Lisa did succeed in her goal to trek through Egypt. Although it was part of an air-conditioned caravan with 6 other travelers and not a pith-helmeted “Indiana Jones like” vision quest.
Brian Adkins is a Chicago-based runner, marathoner, endurance athlete, writer, editor, essayist, and independent scholar. You can contact Brian at: firstname.lastname@example.org