I often hear that if you want a different outcome in life, you can’t keep doing what you always do. This is easier said than done. Habits make change difficult. You construct habits that can either give you wings to fly or act as cement blocks on your feet. The tiny, little decisions we make each day often seem insignificant. Who cares if I just eat that one extra cookie? Who cares if I go to bed late tonight and tomorrow? What effect does that have in the entire scheme of my life?
The fact is that a lot of small actions accumulate into one big outcome in your life. This is a good thing. That means we don’t have to conquer Mount Everest to achieve what we want! We can just work on the things that will help us fly a little bit each day. Step by step. One day you’ll wake up with whatever you wanted in life and wonder when it even happened to you? I’m sure we’ve all been there a time or two.
For example, I remember there was one year when I was young that I wanted to have ripped abs. I just decided that before every shower, I would drop down and do roughly 20 crunches. It literally took less than 5 minutes and I did it every day. It seemed like such a small and insignificant amount of effort at the time. But, just months later, my abs were transformed! I was shocked it made any difference.
It’s scary how few people live a life they have consciously and intentionally designed. Many of us spend our days going through the motions without questioning why. You go to work and when you come home you sit in front of the T.V. to eat and decompress. It’s a normal habit, but is it creating the life you want?
I always hear people say they would do “such and such” if they had time. They will travel “one day”. They will lose weight “one day”. They will join that book club “one day”. But what are they doing today or on their weekend off? What do they do in the wee hours of the morning before work or before they go to bed? Our free time is often filled with things we wouldn’t classify as “valuable” and we do them without question. Why? Because habits don’t use our brain! It’s wonderful because we can reduce the amount of fatigue and mental drain from making decisions in our life, but it’s also critical that we establish good habits so our lives don’t just run themselves on mediocre autopilot. So let’s take a step back and critique how we spend our time.
Step 1: Examine the habits you have. What do you want to keep or enhance? What do you want to destroy?
Step 2: How can we get rid of the bad habits?
A great book, The Power of Habit, talked about how habits are formed and sustained. We spend 6-16 hours a day on autopilot, performing tasks and doing things without conscious thought. It’s, therefore, critical to master those habits in order to make changes in our life.
Habits are set up on a 3-step LOOP.
- Cue: The thing that ‘triggers’ your unconscious mind to act on a habit. It can be a time, an object, a smell, etc…
- Routine: The action that you normally do.
- Reward: Some sort of internal or external satisfaction after completing the routine that reinforces the habit- this is important.
If a baby has a toy, you don’t just take it away and leave them there crying. You give it a new one and redirect it! The same should happen with habits. Don’t try to get rid of them- try to replace them. It’s easiest to just replace the “routine” aspect of a habit if you want to streamline the process.
Let’s use a bad habit of mine as an example.
In the evenings before bed, I like to smoke weed (sorry grandma). I’m a productive human during the day, then when the sun starts going down, I begin to “shut off” and look for the ganja. I keep thinking how much more productive I could be if I never felt this urge. Sure, I don’t smoke every day, but everytime evening hits I think about it and that’s how I know it’s a habit. Here’s my habit loop:
Cue: Evening time
Routine: Smoking weed
So instead, when the sun goes down, I can take a shower, get into bed and read a book. This way, I’ll go to bed earlier (without the blue light from my computer), I’ll eat less food (because, you know, munchies), and I’ll do more reading (which I always say I want to do and don’t leave enough time for).
So my cue is the same and so is the reward, but this time my routine is different.
This doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. But the beauty of habits come from SUCCESS SPIRALS. You can spiral downward with the momentum of bad habits, but you can also spiral upwards with good ones! Habits are always just easier to do with time. So, soon, reaching for that book will be second nature. The best part of success spirals is that they are contagious. Once you begin to improve one area of your life, they all tend to improve over time. If I replace weed with a book, I get to lose weight, get more sleep, function properly during the day, and have more intelligence/perspective/blog ideas from my readings, oh and I’ll be a better writer! Yes, success also loves company. 🙂
Once you understand that your life is composed of every seemingly insignificant choice you make, you’ll soon realize that habits are your life. Therefore, prudently controlling these habits will lead to liberation, contentment, and overall life satisfaction.
So, as 2019 is approaching, what habits can you put the effort into changing? I promise you it will be worth all the effort.