Saturday, July 19, 2014

How to Start, Kick or Keep ANY Habit:

Photograph by Jocelyn Wardle (source)

As you may have guessed from the title, this blog post is about how to start, kick or keep ANY habit. Yes, I'm serious and yes, I know that introduction makes me seem like a tacky late-night infomercial salesperson.

You see, it's all in the mind: The easiest way to continue with a habit is to already know it exists and is doable.  The only barrier in changing our behaviour is how we think about it. If we KNOW that one thing is just as simple as the other we will be more and more inclined to practice that line of thought. We reach for m&m's or white bread because our brain has molded itself around these 'facts' - we can just as easily mold our brain around new facts and discipline ourselves in reference to them.

We've educated ourselves to believe one thing is a habit, and that that habit is easier than anything else.

I'll use an example. Say you have a real dependency on unhealthy snack foods like M&M's but you REALLY want to start eating healthily. You want to replace those afternoon M&M's with almonds or an apple. You want it so bad, man. You want to be able to hashtag your afternoon snack with #cleaneating in a non-ironic way even though you pretend you hate that shit.

The problem is, you love your M&M's. So, how do you change the habit? You convince yourself. Convince yourself you want apples. Convince yourself almonds are just as good as M&M's. Spend days, weeks, even months convincing yourself of this. Think about how sick you feel after blazing through a packet of crunchy M&M's versus how good you feel when you eat well. Take a deep breath, push your chair back from your desk and remember that instant gratification rarely leads to long-term happiness. You want to be healthy? You really want it? Listen to my informercial salesperson alter ego and think. Use your brain power to change your habits by first changing your thinking. Assess and analyse your habits, list (mentally or physically, whatev's yo style is gurrl) the pro's and cons of your current habits and why you want to change them. If the pro's outweigh the cons focus on that. 

Next up, did you fail? Has a week gone by with you wanting to eat almonds but feeling horribly guilty every time you've scoffed those M&M's? GOOD! That's step one. Guilt is great. Guilt is good. Guilt let's us know we're screwing up the person we want to be. We're being mean to future-us. Feeling guilty about habits we perceive is a great thing if we can utilize that emotion to make better choices.

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Philospher Adam Smith once stated, 'The great secret of education is to direct vanity to proper objects.' 

You see, we can re-educate ourselves and that will force our habits to stick. If we fully understand the implications of our actions, the positives of new actions, and how easily done they are (almonds are just as easily available as M&M's, the couch is just as available as the great outdoors, you can go camping as often as you can go shopping) and learn to enjoy things that we believe will lead to a more fulfilling life we will be more inclined to follow through with certain ideas.

It really, really is all in your mind. As Phil Dunphy might say, everything has to do with a positive attitude.

The catch-22 here is that this kind of thing is not easy. It takes real discipline to continue to assert your views to a certain way. Even now I can feel positive pathways I've spent the last year constructing slipping. My good habits are slumping and I know I need to bring myself back down to Earth.

The key is mindfulness, you need to be constantly aware of what direction you're heading in, and constantly attempting to improve it. You need to catch negative thoughts or slacking behaviour at their root and prune them back into line.

Also, mix metaphors. It's fun.

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I have a 'thing' where I think about something I want to do for months and months before doing it. For some this could be considered procrastination, and it is, but it's also a brilliant way of teaching myself to very carefully consider all angles of a situation before diving in. It's slightly restrictive, yes, but it also helps me develop a mentality which forces me to follow through once I've convinced myself that 'THIS' is how I want to live. It reinforces the goal over and over, and eventually the thought becomes reality, and the thought STICKS - like super-glue.

And what's the benefits for the narcissists/dreamers who want world peace out there? You get to do this:
Start education by leading by example. Illustrate the availability and ease of certain acts. Show the rest of us that to do this rather than that is just as simple, and then gloat quietly in a corner with your #cleaneating apple.

Xo, Ellen