Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Year, New Habit

I've been reading about habits lately -- trying to learn how to replace old, hindering habits with new beneficial habits.  One thing I learned from Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit book is that some habits are more influential on other habits than others, meaning that some habits spread quite naturally into creating other new helpful habits. These are called "keystone habits."  If I want to develop just one new habit (focusing on one habit at a time is much easier, after all), it would make sense to be sure that habit is a keystone habit. . .

So, where do I begin?  Where do you begin?  Many of us (especially right after the holiday season) are thinking about fitness goals in January.  (And if you know me, I'm thinking about fitness goals all year round!) If I were to just focus on eating, I could get specific with what I should eat, when I should eat, and where I should eat it (I have a little problem with not sitting down to eat during the day).  But the more I think about it, my bad keystone habit that infiltrates into demolishing all my eating hopes and dreams is not about where why and what I eat.  It's a habit I have of sabotaging my goals.

There, I said it.  Hard to admit, but in my head, I have known this for many years.  I love to plan out goals.  I love to imagine the rewards, the preparations, and the satisfaction that I'll have when it all goes as planned. Sometimes I keep those plans really well, sometimes for months at a time, maybe even years. But when I need to begin again for whatever reason, I've found that I tend to throw in the towel before the journey even begins.  I am happier to give up on my eating plan first thing in the morning because it takes off the pressure of thinking about it for the rest of the day.  If I can just fail at the beginning, I won't be stressed about failing later on.  I won't have to battle anymore.  Sound crazy? Maybe it is, but I don't think I'm the only person in the world who does this.

I haven't actually read about other people doing this exact same thing to themselves, but I've read many diet books (or healthy eating books) that talk about having friends or family members who tend to sabotage your plans.  Sometimes we can separate ourselves from those people or the events that will present those situations.  But what if WE are the ones who are doing the sabotaging?  Can we separate from ourselves?  Not really. We need to learn how to stop that cycle. THAT is the keystone habit that I am going to work on this year.  Hopefully (as is the meaning of the word "habit"), I won't have to work on not sabotaging myself after awhile -- then just think about how much easier the other habits will be to develop!

Do I have any answers for how to stop the sabotaging cycle?   Not yet, but I will.  What I know is that a habit has a cue (or trigger), a routine (or behavior) and a reward.  My trigger is most likely the anxiety or self-imposed pressure of following a healthier plan. The behavior is to fail (meaning that I quickly eat something completely off plan).  And the reward is that I don't have to think about it  (thus releasing the anxiety) anymore -- at least not until tomorrow ☺

To develop a new habit, you use the same trigger and reward, but change the behavior. That scenario could be:  Feel the anxiety, _______________, Not think about it anymore.  Now I just need to fill in that blank.

Here are a few ideas that I'll experiment with -- (Yoda will be pleased that I didn't say "try"):

  • Do just a few yoga poses, yes even in the kitchen.  Many relieve anxiety and maybe that could help
  • Say a silent prayer for strength to break the cycle.
  • Sit down and eat something healthy -- anything -- even if it's not on the original plan, just get it in your body so you can think more clearly, taking time to breathe and ponder.
  • Go outside for a few minutes -- enjoy the sunshine or nature available and see if it clears your mind.
  • Tell yourself that you wouldn't do this to your best friend and that you should be just as loving to yourself.
  • Write down all the reasons that you would like to bail on your plans and write more to show yourself what is a better idea.

That last one was something I did when I first started exercising consistently almost 19 years ago. Whenever I came up with a reason why I couldn't exercise, I'd make myself write down why I couldn't. When I saw it on paper, I'd see just how lame my excuse was and I'd get up and exercise.  Maybe that could work with developing other habits, as well.

I will let you know how this goes.  And I'd love to hear what works for you.  TTFN!

Yoga and Nature photos by Javier Morales via Creative Commons
Stop photo by isolatecyclist