The Power of Habits

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Gandhi

So much of your success comes from the habits you have as a person. Often we don’t even think much about them, for instance the way you brush your teeth, or comb your hair are habits that have been established over the period of many years. Many old habits are good and they are best left the way they are, other old habits are destructive and we know this, but continue this destructive behavior. Why? Well because it is a habit and habits are hard to change. Think about a bad habit you have, maybe it is eating too much or the wrong foods, drinking alcohol, or maybe smoking. Think back, when did this behavior become a habit? Probably a long time ago and every time you repeat this behavior the habit becomes more ingrained and becomes part of  yourself. The more you repeat the behavior the stronger the habit becomes. Most of these habits have triggers, such as a cup of coffee proceeds a cigarette, or Friday night means a trip to the party store to pick up your favorite beverage.

If old habits have a hold over you because they are so ingrained and have been repeated so many times, then why is it equally as difficult to adopt a new habit? To start with it might be that your old habits are occupying so much space in your head and time on your calendar that there is no room for a new habit. Now none of what I have mentioned so far is very encouraging, but for most of us it is true. We are habitual animals by nature, and these habits provide a well known script to live out our days. We also know that by not adopting new positive habits we are stagnating. So what’s the answer here?

My advice is that there is no silver bullet, no easy solution. The only thing that works for me is you become so sick of a bad habit and it’s consequences, that you make some room for a better habit. Sometimes being sick of it is not enough, but you also need a healthy dose of fear interjected into the equation. So I’m sick to death of this stupid behavior and I am afraid of what is doing to my life. Remember I’m not talking about some silly stupid habit, but instead something life threatening. A habit that has it’s own gravitational pull, sucking you into the vortex. This isn’t something that a little will power or well intended affirmations is going to fix.

The power of the habit is immense and well your resolve is usually pretty pathetic, and you know it. If you could use self discipline or some other form of wishful thinking you probably wouldn’t have dug the hole so deep in the first place. I’ve read some people that advocate just replacing the bad habit with a new habit. Great advice Einstein, but that’s like putting a three year old up against a Champion Sumo Wrestler. An old ingrained habit has way more traction with you and cannot be replaced by the new habit of the day. I’m not saying anything you don’t know here, because like me you tried this mismatch and observed the consequences.

When you get to that point where the pain caused by the old habit far exceeds the pleasure, you might be ready to make a change. Here are a few approaches to consider:

  • Triggers – Think about the triggers for your bad habits and consider eliminating the triggers. This at least begins changing your behavior and if nothing else begins to give you some insight into the situations that are facilitating this habit.
  • Not all at one time – Don’t try and fix everything in a day. What I’m really saying is don’t try to conquer Rome until you have laid waste to Venice first. One of the biggest mistakes we make is I’m going to stop all the bad shit, and I am doing it today! This only limits your probability for success and that leads to my final approach.
  • Incremental progress – You took 20 – 30 years to create this not so great habit of yours, and you are going to defeat it in a day. You begin to delude yourself and get all hyped up on David Goggins video’s and you decide I’m done with this shit. Let’s get real about who we are going to do battle with. You don’t want to hear this because we all think we have so much self disciple, but my advice is start small. Begin undermining the beast, bit by bit, step by step, until you are in essence beginning to gain some self control. If you can’t stop a bad habit, at least defer it, start breaking the pattern, begin confusing yourself; remember your taking this thing down by hand, brick by brick. Another incremental technique is to adjust the dosage. Start using less of whatever it is that is fucking you up, and you will not only have some more time on your hands, but you are also chipping away at the beast.

Listen it became a habit because you did something hundreds or thousands of times; all this repetition has made it part of your identify. It has become somewhat powerful and you probably know that. Don’t beat yourself up over it and just accept that you can’t change this behavior, because you can. You didn’t build this habit in a day or week, and you can’t destroy it that quickly, but you can take action.

Namaste

Exercise is my hobby

We find too many people that view various forms of exercise as something they should do to lose weight or look better, which is fine, but there are many of us who view it as a hobby. When exercise becomes a hobby you no longer dread your workouts in fact you often think of them, looking forward to them. Developing a perspective that you are not exercising to achieve some goal, but instead it is a form of pleasure, provides you with a long term outlook. If I exercise to lose 10 pounds, what happens when I shed the 10 pounds? Maybe I will stop exercising because I have achieved my goal, but if the weight loss was just one of the results of enjoying my hobby, I am more likely to keep pursuing my hobby.

curls guy

I am convinced that exercise has a somewhat negative connotation for many people. They feel they have a limited amount of time that would better be devoted to their job, watching television, eating, drinking, or playing around on their computer, phone, or tablet. I’m not interested in listing all the benefits of exercising versus sitting around doing whatever; this should be rather obvious for most of us. The question is how do we change our perspective from something I feel I should do or dread doing to something I look forward to everyday? Here are a few ways we begin to make that mind shift:

  • consistency becomes habit and habits can be pleasurable. Being resolute in the beginning is one of the keys.
  • results tend to provide encouragement, you begin to think this is providing positive benefits for me, and this makes me want to keep doing it.
  • endorphin’s are released when exercising, providing pleasurable feelings and reducing pain in the body, yet another reason that helps you shift from I have to do this to I want to do this. In fact the mind shift becomes cemented when you find that you don’t feel good unless you have exercised that day.

As you begin to see results, and you realize all the benefits you are getting from exercising, it becomes a habit and as many of us can attest almost an addiction. Don’t be surprised if you go away on vacation and decide you just can’t sit there on the beach, pretty soon your taking a run or walk, and maybe spending some time in the resorts gym. This mind shift begins with consistently performing the activity, and it will become a high priority habit in your life. That habit will grow into a pleasurable hobby that you look forward to and yes reap all the benefits that come with it.

Namaste

Old Habits Die Hard

Isn’t that the old saying “Old Habits Die Hard”? The reason that this saying is relevant is that it is true. Once something is repeated enough times to become a habit it becomes difficult to change. To make it more challenging it seems like those old habits that are destructive are even more difficult to discard. This might be because a destructive habit has morphed into a full fledged addiction like smoking, alcoholism, eating disorders, or gambling just to name a few. What are we to do about this old saying and how can we look at the positive consequences of old habits dying hard? Listen I don’t claim to have all the answers to how you might get rid of a severe addiction, but I can speak from experience on what has worked for me. Let’s take a look at some things to consider when tackling a destructive habit or addiction:

  • Seek out medical help – Contact your doctor and see if there is anything they would advise. Sure you may feel you can kick this habit on your own, but if you have tried in the past and failed it may be time to seek out the assistance of a physician or physicians assistant.
  • Break the pattern – The reason it is a habit is that you probably have a pattern of when you would indulge yourself in whatever you are addicted to. Maybe every Friday night you end up at the liquor store, make your purchase and decide it is time to have a few drinks after not drinking all week-long, and end up finishing the bottle, in effect binge drinking. Recognize that there is a pattern of behavior in play here and the trigger is Friday night. Now that you know the pattern you need to create a new form of behavior and substitute something else for that trip to the liquor store and the subsequent binge drinking episode. So maybe that is going out to dinner, taking a walk, going to the theater, or even reading a book. The behavior pattern is well ingrained in you mind by now and you will need to work at breaking it, but recognize it is a habit and you can replace it with a more constructive behavior.
  • Goal Setting – I bring this up because I found myself pursuing a number of positive goals, but continued to have a couple destructive behaviors that just didn’t support what I was all about. When you realize that there is a destructive addiction that you are clinging to, but 90% of your life is headed in the opposite or positive direction, you begin to chip away at the strength of that addiction. One part of your brain begins to battle the weak part and this helps you build up some much-needed resolve to banish the bad habit so you can stay true to your real purpose and goals.

Obviously there are many other things you can do, but when they say old habits die-hard it is very true and just wishing for it to end won’t cut it. So seek out medical help to pick a strategy, recognize your pattern of behavior and break it, and get yourself some positive goals to help you battle the addiction.  Let’s talk about the reverse of how this old habits die hard paradigm can work to your advantage. As we are all creatures of habits then we can choose what habits to embrace, setting our course by using this habitual behavior to enhance our lives instead of dragging it down. The paradox is that it is often more difficult to make that good behavior into an old habit that dies hard. Let’s take a look at some ways that have worked for me:

  • Perseverance – I posted a blog on the topic of perseverance a while back and won’t go over everything in that post, but it might be worth a look to get a better idea of why it will help you create those good habits we are seeking. I struggled with this recently as I was attempting to make my yoga and meditation practice into a daily activity. I would get up at 5:00 a.m. and feed the dogs, grab a cup of coffee, and go upstairs to my game room and unroll my mat and begin my practice, but I also had days that I skipped it for what I  justified to myself as good reasons. After about 4 months now I don’t seem to have those excuses/reasons for skipping my sessions and recently I had a pretty bad cold but stayed with the program, and that is the power of perseverance. I might add it is also the power of how what finally became an old habit dies hard. The act of getting up and ritual created a habit, and it turns out to be a pretty good habit that went from somewhat of a struggle to something I really enjoy today.
  • Repetition and Ritual – I mentioned above that it took me about 4 months to go from an activity and turn it into a positive habit. I had to repeat the activity over and over again even against my desires at the time. As you develop a positive habit make sure you try to stick to the same time, same day(s), and repeat the pattern. To further integrate this new good habit into your life make sure you follow the same ritual as much as possible. An example might be changing into your favorite workout shorts, shirt, socks, and shoes, then drinking a pre-workout drink or in my case at 5:00 a.m. a bit of coffee.  Why do you think churches follow the same ritual during a service? Rituals provide structure and repeat a pattern of behavior that lends itself to becoming a habit.
  • Alignment – Make sure when you go down the road to creating a good habit that it supports your most important goals. I say this because now that it is a habit it commands your attention and you now have a trade off, the habit or something else I could be doing with my time that aligns to my goals. Remember you just created a habit and even a good one will require some time to break it, so choose wisely and align your new good habits with your goals.

Let’s all say goodbye to those destructive habits and say Hello or Hola to our new positive die hard habits. I would love to hear how you destroy the bad habits and create good ones, don’t be shy.

Namaste