Whether you are actively thinking about it or not, everyday you are executing countless habits. From brushing your teeth in the morning to the way you react in certain situations; all our routines are habits that we have consciously or subconsciously created over time. Even if you choose to not do something, you inadvertently choose something else and create the foundation for that habit instead.
The question I pose to you is – do your habits serve you? And if you are trying to replace or change one, what happens when you fail?
We try to create habits for any number of reasons, usually to help our physical, mental or emotional well-being. Habit-creation is a learnt skill, so everyone can do it should they decide to, though that doesn’t mean that it is easy. Successful change requires abnormally intense, uninterrupted concentration and repetition. Which is why when we’re still forming a new habit and life becomes stressful, the new habit might fail. Our brains revert to previous habits that don’t need conscious decisions because it takes less energy, than to change and to continue laying foundations of the new pathway we’re trying to form.
Generally habits are best created one at a time, with full, uninterrupted focus. But, like most people, I want everything, all at once, preferably yesterday. This year I finally choose to stop working in hospitality so that I could put myself in a place to successfully integrate multiple healthy habits into my life. I had worked in hospitality for close to 10 years, which meant my schedule was very different each week. My body clock was a mess, the lack of routine was affecting me physically and emotionally, not to mention the toll it took on my relationships. Plus it wasn’t even the career path I wanted! There were numerous other reasons that added up to me finally making the change. Now I work set hours every Monday through Thursday, at a fulfilling job that is in line with my priorities and goals. My new lifestyle has made it easier to structure healthy habits into my routine. I wake up at 7am for work each day, so my 4am bed times are long gone. Admittedly, the first few weeks were hard, but I put myself in that corner on purpose; so I had no other option but to succeed. While I was in hospitality I struggled to have a regular workout routine. There is a gym 10 minutes walk from my new job and so I decided to exercise after I finish work each day. Now the process is automatic, once I leave work I walk straight to the gym.
“Everything you are used to, once done long enough, starts to seem natural, even though it might not be.”
Not all habits need a lifestyle overhaul to make them successful. It could be something as simple as flossing or meditating each day, that can have a profound positive influence in our life. The process to create any habit is the same.
Decide what healthy habit it is you want to incorporate into your life, and why
Setting a very clear and defined “why” is important because if/when you trip up and slip back into the old habit, this is what will help you to push through this time and start again.
Make a plan
How are you going to achieve your goal? If you have tried, unsuccessfully to create this habit before, take some time to reflect on what you might need to do differently this time. Set a date, and have a method for accountability; it can be your friends, family, or an app, there are many options.
Make sure you put yourself in a position to win. Your physical environment should be in line with what you are trying to achieve – reduce the size of the challenge. If you want to lose weight, don’t leave tempting food in the kitchen. If you want to run, put your workout clothes right next to your bed, so when you wake up in the morning you can’t help but stand on them.
When I wanted to create a healthier workout habit, I knew working in hospitality, with a crazy schedule, would not be in line with my habit. It meant I had to decide what I valued more; in the end I changed career path to something that was more in line with my core values and priorities. Now each night I prepare my gym clothes to take to work the following day.
Set a specific event to anchor your new habit to
Have something defined that you already do as the moment before your new habit.
The moment I walk out the door from work, I put my gym pass in my hand so that I am ready to check in as soon as I get to the gym. My anchor is walking out the door and putting my hand in my pocket for my gym pass. Doing this means that the next thing I must do is go to the gym.
Have a system for accountability and support
This is important to keep and/or check you are on the right path. It can be as simple as messaging a friend each time you complete the habit.
I’ve taken to “checking-in” when I go to the gym, this also allows me to track the frequency of my visits. Anything you track you can analyze and change.
Creating a healthy habit in itself is a reward, but for some we need a little more.
I take time out in the steam room, some people do a mental fist pump. Figure out how you enjoy celebrating.
So your habit has been going great for a while, but then what do you do when the proverbial shit hits the fan? Because let’s be honest, it’s life and things are going to get a little messy at times.
Take a moment to step back and analyze. Forming a new habit is not going to happen all at once, maybe you need to start smaller. If you want to start meditating, just commit to meditating for 5 minutes every day. Talk with your friends and family for support. Think back to why you wanted to create the habit in the first place. Just because you got thrown off course along the way does not mean the course is bad, you just need to get back there again.
Remember that there are always going to be bumps in the road on the way to any new habit. It is worth it.
And then, if all else fails. Just suck it up and do it anyway.