There’s a story about a man riding a horse, galloping quickly. It appears that he’s going somewhere very important. A man standing along the roadside shouts, “Where are you going?” The rider replies, “I don’t know. Ask the horse!” This is the story of most people’s lives; you’re riding the horse of your habits, with no idea where you’re headed.
In the life of a working mom, you come face to face with so many decisions during the day that life would be out of control if you didn’t form certain habits. Whether it’s how you do your hair in the morning or your bedtime routine, certain tasks need to be on autopilot in order to be able to handle more complicated ones.
You live in a complex world so it’s important to automate certain behaviors. But when was the last time you took a look at your habits and asked whether they are really serving you? If you have no idea what I’m talking about then it’s probably safe to say the answer is “Never”.
The results you have in your life are created by the actions you take so if you don’t like the results, you have to start looking at the cause. Your habits are an important place to start.
This week I’m going to discuss habits that help, habits that hurt and the process of changing a habit.
Habits that help
Your brain is the most incredible computer you could possibly own. It processes more data than any high tech apparatus ever invented.
Imagine having to decide every single action you take on a daily basis from how to walk across a room to how to brush your teeth. You couldn’t function if you had to make conscious decisions about every single activity.
That’s why you are largely a creature of habit. Your brain has automated certain activities that don’t require your consciousness. You automatically brush your teeth in the morning, put your seatbelt on in the car and turn off the lights when you go to bed.
Not only do certain habits make your life easier to manage, but you also want other people to have habits that make your life safe and enjoyable. You want the air traffic controller to follow certain protocols and habits to ensure your safety when traveling on a plane.
Since a habit is an impulse to do a behavior without any conscious thought then it makes sense that certain habits can be very helpful. Beginning in childhood you learned a series of conditioned responses that led you to react automatically to most situations.
Since your brain likes consistency and to expend as little energy as possible, your habits and routines that allow you to use minimal conscious energy for everyday tasks is easily acceptable to the brain. Habits free up mental energy for more creative, analytical thoughts.
Since your habits are actions in the Manage Your Mind Model then it makes sense that those habits create your results. A daily routine built on good habits is the difference that separates the most successful people from everyone else.
Habits sound great but what about if there’s something in your life that isn’t working; that isn’t what you want it to be. What about the unconscious, automatic choices that are hurting you instead of helping you?
Habits that hurt
Is there something that comes to mind that isn’t working in your life? Maybe it’s something to do with your health, your work or your relationships. Think of an area in your life that isn’t what you want it to be.
You may not want to hear this but you have been creating the results you currently have. That area of your life that isn’t working is the result of the actions you’ve been taking. Some of those impulses or habits that your brain has taken a liking to have been creating the results that are actually hurting you.
The reason you have bad habits is often because of the need for immediate gratification. Your brain isn’t looking at the long-term consequences of your current behavior. To your brain your bad habits don’t seem to have any negative effect at all in the moment.
Eating one Big Mac doesn’t give you a heart attack and taking one puff of a cigarette doesn’t instantly age your face into a weathered old woman. Plus, your brain isn’t programmed to consider the compound effect of unconscious daily choices.
Taking a look at the unfavorable results you already have can give you the starting point to change the habits that aren’t serving you and to get to their root cause. It’s time to take control of the reins, and move your life in the direction of where you really want to go.
How to change a habit
Right now you have certain results in your life and those results have been created by what you’ve been thinking, feeling and doing. Since your brain likes to be efficient, it is very comfortable repeating those habitual thoughts, feelings, actions and results.
So when you want to make a change, your brain is naturally not on board because it resists change. Your brain’s desire for homeostasis or stability means change takes effort, planning and rewiring your brain.
The key to changing a habit is recognizing that since you created the result you currently have, you can also create a new result. Your current habits didn’t just happen overnight therefore creating a new habit will take effort but once achieved, it will become unconscious and effortless.
The process to change a habit starts by getting clear about the following:
- What is the result you currently don’t want any longer
- What is the automatic habit creating that result that you want to change
- What result do you want instead
- What new actions will get you that new result
For example, I’ve never been someone to exercise or to play sports. The only sport I was good at when I was younger was bowling. My habit of avoiding exercise was fine until I hit menopause in my mid 40’s. My doctor said that my bloodwork was now an issue and that I needed to make some life style changes and exercising was one of them.
Once I saw that my inaction was no longer serving my body I decided to make a change. I was inspired to learn how to jog even though I had never run a day in my life. I had walked at the park near my house inconsistently but obviously that was part of the reasons for my current results so just walking wasn’t going to be enough.
So now that you are clear about the result you do want and the new habit that will get you there, it’s important to get clear about the rest:
- What is the feeling you currently have that created your current habit
- What thoughts have created that feeling
- How would you need to feel in order to create your new habit
- What thoughts would create that new feeling
In my example I had to get clear that my inaction came from the feeling of unmotivated. That consistent feeling of unmotivated then created a habit of avoidance.
Since my feeling was unmotivated, I realized that the thoughts I had about exercise were “I’ve never needed to exercise so why start now” and “I’ll just watch what I eat since that has always worked for me in the past”.
I now had a better understanding of my habit of avoidance when it came to exercise. I had been having thoughts that created the feeling of unmotivated; that feeling then created inaction; this inaction had gotten me my current body issues.
In order to learn how to jog when I had never run a day in my life (seriously not a day!), I needed to feel motivated and determined. In order to create the feeling of motivated or determined I chose thoughts like “I can’t wait to show myself what I’m capable of” and “I deserve to do this for myself”.
At this point your brain will want to go back to its old comfortable habits. You have to create a new pathway in your brain that then becomes the new helpful habit. My brain was constantly trying to tell me this was a silly idea and that I wouldn’t follow through with it. It looked for all the proof that I shouldn’t change my non-exercise habit with thoughts like “No one thinks you can do this” and “It’s going to be embarrassing when you can’t achieve this goal”.
In order to override the brain’s resistance to change, it’s important to start envisioning what you will say and do once you’ve created this new habit. Start feeling what it will feel like as your future self who has created the result you want. I decided to train to run a 5k in 6 months that was sponsored by my favorite hockey team, the NY Rangers. I started envisioning being handed a participation medal, meeting one of the NY Ranger players and being super proud of myself.
6 months after learning how to jog, sticking with my routine no matter what and managing my mind the entire time, I ran the 5k in the iconic New York World’s Fair grounds and was high fived by one of my all-time favorite NY Rangers, Ron Duguay. When I was 15 years old I wore his hockey jersey and now I was 50 years old and doing something I never would have dreamed was possible.
My next doctor’s appointment showed that my bloodwork had improved dramatically and I was so proud of the work I put into creating this new habit. Now that that habit is formed in my brain, I can pick it up whenever I want.
So where is the horse of your habits taking you? Are you happy with the results you currently have or is there something you want? I really want you to know that you can take those reigns and steer that horse in whatever direction you want; you just have to want something new more than you want to stay stuck in what’s familiar.
One of my mentors once said that discomfort is the currency to your dreams. I couldn’t agree more when it comes to creating a new habit that will serve you so much more in the long run. So what’s it going to be? I can’t wait to high five you at the finish line!
- Since a habit is an impulse to do a behavior without any conscious thought then it makes sense that certain habits can be very helpful.
- Habits free up mental energy for more creative, analytical thoughts.
- Some impulses or habits that your brain has taken a liking to have been creating the results that are actually hurting you.
- Your brain’s desire for homeostasis or stability means change takes effort, planning and rewiring your brain.
- You have to create a new pathway in your brain that then becomes the new helpful habit.
- Discomfort is the currency to your dreams.
If you’d like some help creating better habits, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.