I’m reading a great book at the moment, called, ”Good Habits, Bad Habits’ by Wendy Wood, based on the science of making positive changes that stick. Habits are so interesting because they make up around 43% of what we do every-day! So even though we think we are driven by intention, motivation, goals and values, often it’s just years of ingrained habits that get us through the day or direct us to certain places or things.
We are made up of all our little habits. Some habits are Friday night fish and chips, or social smoking when you are out for a drink; others are brushing your teeth every day or buying the same food at the supermarket each week – our body knows the groove, the route and creates expectations. When we try to change our habits, we feel the discomfort. Imagine if you were told you could only have a shower at night, three times a week, instead of every morning? Or you moved to a rural area with no fish and chip shop, or you broke your leg and could not go for your long cycle on a Sat and eat cream cakes after. You’d feel bereft, almost like something was missing from your week: you’d miss your routine/habit.
When I first gave up smoking, it felt like I’d lost my best friend, a part of me was gone and it took a few years to not feel that way, smoking was a 15 year habit – that’s not an easy thing to shift. When I gave it up, I’d been doing it for half of my life. Arriving in the UK meant using a seatbelt every-day, when I’d just spent seven of my early driving years in South Africa, cruising around without a seatbelt and going 20 over the speed limit. We think fastening our speed belt is driven by our safety conscious thoughts, but really it’s just a habit – a very good life saving one! A few speeding fines, cautions, losing my licence, plus disapproving looks and comments by friends and family made me start using my seat belt and slowing down, now it’s something that’s completely ingrained and part of my psyche.
Your early years, your environment, the rules that govern a country, the discipline of your workplace, the people you surround yourself with, all have a huge effect on your habits, especially the bad ones! Some habits are addictive, some are really good, some are restrictive, some are just the way we live our lives.
So how does this affect us? Well essentially our desires and goals are often not in sync, so we may want to become a ‘runner’, for e.g. and have this goal, but our desire to stay in bed at 6.30am when the alarm goes off is too high, so we give in to our desire and don’t achieve our goals. When you ask runners, how do you get up every morning and run or go on long training runs in the rain, they just shrug and say, ‘I do it’. The difference is, they don’t think about it, they have a pattern and they are following it. They are not making decisions such as, ‘should I go? I feel hungry?’ or ‘maybe I should wait until tomorrow when I’m less tired’ etc. They have formed good habits, so they never have to struggle with the decision to do it, they just do it – there was no internal struggle or effort and they barely had to think about it. It’s almost like they’ve neutralised any temptations or desires. The trick is to do it at the same time, same place, every day or week.
To achieve our goals, whether it’s losing weight, exercising more, getting to bed earlier, getting up earlier, meditating or writing a book, we need to create a ‘good habit’ first and everything else will fall into place. How do you create a good habit? Apparently its perseverance, not willpower or self control – it’s just doing the same thing, at the same time, every day for however many days until that the day arrives and you don’t feel a struggle or discomfort or effort – you just do it. Jack rides to work and home every-day, 95% of the time, for well over a year now and I admire his discipline when it’s cold, dark, wet, windy, freezing, snowy, sleety, yukky etc. but he just did it enough times that now, driving to work feels weird, like he’s missing out. He’s rewarded a lot of the time, with some beautiful, still, crisp evenings, with a warm wind or an early morning sunrise and cycling allows him to shake off the day or wake up the mind, plus it’s cardio fitness – and cheap transport.
We can all make good habits part of our life, but we have to do them when we don’t want to do them, for quite a while – we have to face the struggle, the decision making in our heads and stick with something. For some, once the reward is gone or waivers and the initial will power is walking out the door, we question everything about what we are doing. Why? Just a week ago, we loved this, we raved about this, we bought into this. Well if you want to stop eating your afternoon snack which is 200 extra calories, you’ll have to eat an apple and almonds instead for a long time, maybe a month, maybe 3 months, until you can’t imagine eating anything but an apple and almonds in the afternoon. Replacing one thing per day, per week, until you don’t feel any resistance to it, is how you do it. You will form a new healthy habit and you will never go back.
I think the bottom line is, ‘what do you want to change?’ More sleep, more energy, more time to yourself, less reliance on junk food or alcohol, more time with your family? You can create this, but you’ll need to create a habit first and then you’ll never have to rely on will-power or self-control again. It will become part of you – it will become easy. And when we look at other folk and think, ‘how do they do that?’ or ‘why do they do that?’, just know that they’ve created some ‘good habits’ or ‘bad habits’.
I’ve got a few ideas for new habits over the next few months, now I need to implement them and embed them.