Habits Define Us, So Why Do We So Often Develop the Wrong Ones?
What if I told you everything you are, do, and have in your life is down to your habits?
Everything is a habit.
I get up at 6.30 am – that’s a habit. I binge Netflix in the evenings – that’s a habit. I intermittent fast – that’s a habit.
Habit, habit, habit.
As you read through that short list of habits, did you find yourself judging them? Getting up at 0630 – good habit? Netflix binging – pretty bad habit?
The truth is that our habits are neither good nor bad – they simply are. When we judge our habits as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, we often judge ourselves as a good person or a bad person. That’s why I use the terms ‘serving’ or ‘unserving’. A habit may even be both of these things at different times of day or phases in your life.
For some people, that habit you label as ‘bad’ is actually a ‘good’ habit. If you work evenings, that 6.30 am wake-up is not a habit that serves you. On the other hand, if you get to bed at 8 pm, it is a good habit.
A habit is a habit is a habit.
What even is a habit?
I choose to define a habit as being a behaviour that we repeat on a regular basis. It is something we could consider that we do on autopilot.
We often don’t choose a habit. For example, my Netflix habit started as a one-off thing. One night, to wind down, I watched Netflix for a couple of hours. Over time, this became a daily endeavour for me. It became a habit. We rarely decide to develop a habit, especially when it’s one that stops serving us over time.
Let’s take addiction as an example. Addiction is an extreme habit. No one who uses alcohol picked up their first drink, and thought, “I’m going to habitually use this in order to feel XYZ.” Maybe the first time they ‘picked up’, they realised that alcohol made them less inhibited. They became the life and soul of the party, and they enjoyed that. Over time, they associated the habit of drinking with being less shy.
Unfortunately, as with a lot of habits, there is a see-saw pivot point. This is where the habit goes from serving us (e.g. by making us less shy) into being unserving (e.g. being hungover at work). We cannot always predict what will turn into a habit. We can though pay attention to the things that are habits before they stop serving us.
We can change
We get to choose whether to keep a habit or to change it. It is our choice. No matter what we believe about not being able to give something up, or not being able to start something new, we can.
I have developed a very solid morning routine. The things that I now do in the morning have become habits. They are habits that serve me and my purpose right now, but I will keep ensuring they continue to be appropriate. I chose to develop these habits by repeating them daily until they became second nature.
A cheerleader for unserving habits
I have a habit of always having the television on in the background when I’m writing content. As I write this blog, I’m watching CNN’s election coverage, for example. Now, this habit is distracting – it means it takes me longer to write the content, and I am less efficient than I could be.
However, we become cheerleaders for our unserving habits. I tell myself I put the TV on while I write so that the dogs don’t bark if they hear noises outside the house. Our house is frequently silent – the dogs bark once or twice a week for random noise (as opposed to door knocks).
In my head, I defend my unserving behaviour with what is a lie.
I lie to myself to keep a habit.
Now it’s time to figure out why I choose to keep this habit. We keep habits because they have a reward – or because we hope to get back to the original way in which they served us. For me, the reward of having the TV on is that content writing feels less intense and more casual. I fear writing something that isn’t successful, so to try and distract from that fear, I use background noise.
Time to change
Changing habits is simple, but not easy. You need to do nothing more than commit to a new habit (or commit to not doing the old habit) and then do it. It’s actually just another decision, but it’s a decision you recommit to daily until it becomes engrained.
It may start slowly – for example, one less visit to Facebook every day. That is still a win at reducing your habit: Rome was not built in a day, and neither were those hard to shift habits. When we make things ‘all or nothing’ (e.g. “I fail if I drink at all”), we’re more likely to stop trying as soon as we err. If we focus on the fact that one drink, hell, even one sip, less is a start, we are more likely to keep persevering.
In my next blog, I will be sharing a super simple five-step process to help you find your habits. To be honest, I had habits I didn’t even know about before I went through that process.
I want you to know that no habit is too great or too longstanding to change. You are capable of change. I believe in you.