Some time ago I had a conversation with a colleague about the nature of a habit and how it influences our life. Let’s face it, we all have habits, some provide structure and comfort while others leave us wanting to make a change. The key comes from not labeling a habit good or bad but rather reflecting on how these habits serve us. Considering how we are left feeling about certain habits in our lives, what could they mean in the sense of long term implications?
Consider the formation of a habit and the fascinating cycle in which we create. The brain remains the center of it, along with repetition. The British Journal of General Practice, notes habits are, “actions that are triggered automatically in response to contextual cues that have been associated with their performance.” In other words, an action becomes ritualized and thus a habit is created. For example, an individual goes to the gym and lifts weights after an argument with a spouse. If that circumstance continues, every time an argument occurs the person will most likely make a trip to the gym without thinking about it. So how can we view habits in a light that helps us evaluate the routines we want to keep or let go of?
We can start with reflection in a non-judgmental reflection of ourselves and what works for us. For many, coping strategies and habits are interchangeable, we use them the same way. Many habits provide comfort and can add to our overall health. However, if a person is in a state of distress, and the habit causes more distress or guilt, it may help to reconsider if that habit should continue. In either scenario, take baby steps to change a habit. Nothing happens over-night, we have to make a conscious effort to persistently carry out a little each day in the direction we want to go.
For example, a person wants to a make a habit out of cooking dinner after work when they eat out 6 days a week. It may be unrealistic to make an extensive shopping list right off the bat, but starting out by electing one night to make grocery store trip, it could result in a successful start. The same goes for habits we may want to dis-empower. Many people struggle with staying up too late at night, either on social media or plugged in some other way and want to change. In this example, it may help to gradually limit time on your smart phone or computer rather than go cold turkey. A great start might be to decrease the time by a half hour each night; then reduce time each week to your desired time spent. We all have habits, fortunately with any direction we go, with dedication, a glimmering light of success awaits us. Here are some tips on adjusting them, adding habits or getting rid of them all together.
- Set realistic expectations. Consider that nothing happens overnight.
- Don’t judge yourself or be too critical.
- Freely talk about your changes with supportive friends and family
- Evaluate which habits are serving you well and those that feel distressing. Think about long term implications.