“Son, stop picking your nose.”
“I’m not.” My son replied, staring straight at me.
Meanwhile, I watched as the rim of his little nose swallowed the first knuckle of his forefinger.
I couldn’t help but think of a caterpillar trying to fit into a Santa hat.
I’m not telling you this to gross you out. I merely wish to convey how strong our habits can be. We can be caught in the middle of doing or saying something and not even realize we are doing or saying it.
It just happens.
Without us putting any conscious thought or effort into it.
Our habits can control more of our lives than we give them credit. Researchers at Duke University have found that our habits can account for about 40% of our behaviors on any given day.
What is a Habit?
Dictionary.com defines a habit as, “An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.” In psychology, it is, “any regularly repeated behavior that requires little or no thought and is learned rather than innate.”
The important things to notice here is that habits are learned. And once we have learned them they become automatic.
“Conscious thoughts, repeated often enough, become unconscious thinking.” — Joe Dispenza
This is done to make things easier on our brains. The more things that it can assign to autopilot, the less work it has to do. And our brains like to cut out as much conscious work as they can. Saving energy for other tasks.
String enough habits together during your day and you have a routine. Wake up, brush your teeth, drink some coffee, eat breakfast, get ready, etc.
Habits are hard to make and to break
These routines give our brains and lives comfort and ease. Which, is what we want.
This is why they can be so hard to break when we decide that a habit no longer serves us. Once these tasks are given over to our subconscious they have their own momentum. Whether starting a new one or breaking an old one, effort and energy are required.
Think of pushing a boulder up a hill.
The effort and energy needed to get it started can be great. But once we get it over the peak, we have passed the baton to the subconscious and it’s all “down hill” from there. The effort and energy necessary to keep it going are drastically reduced.
The boulder is a big habit.
Starting that workout routine or quitting smoking for example.
But some habits can be likened to kicking a soccer ball up the same hill. Saying good morning to the first 5 people you see. Or, rinsing your dishes when bringing them to the sink.
Whether big or small you can’t rely on will power and motivation to always carry you through.
Motivation is a feeling and can pass just as quickly as it came. Will power can be hijacked or watered down by something as simple as being hungry or tired.
This is the double-edged sword of habits. Once it is in there, you don’t need motivation to keep it going. But if it is a bad habit your will power isn’t enough, on its own, to get rid of it.
Snapping yourself out of the autopilot and being aware of what your habits is crucial.
“The moment you decide to no longer think the same way, act the same way or live by the same emotions, it’s going to feel uncomfortable. And the moment you feel uncomfortable, you just stepped into the river of change.” Joe Dispenza
Changing your habits. Don’t tackle them all at once
A common mistake in trying to eliminate bad habits and install good ones is the shotgun approach. How many boulders can you push up a hill at once? And, by the same token, how many soccer balls can you kick up the hill at the same time?
To get the most out of your efforts, it’s best to focus on one habit to change or install at a time. And you don’t always have to hit it out of the park.
Small habits may not require a great effort, but can lead to big change just the same.
James Clear (an authority on habits) puts it perfectly,
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour.”
“The problem is that it can be really easy to overestimate the importance of building your Roman empire and underestimate the importance of laying another brick.”
“Actually Rome is just the result, the bricks are the system. The system is greater than the goal. Focusing on your habits is more important than worrying about your outcomes.”
This can help you overcome those moments when the will power and motivation are no where to be found. Focus on the ritual not the result. At first when installing or uninstalling habits it’s all about the process not the progress. Consistency, grit and resilience are more important than how you’re feeling that day.
As the artist Chuck Close puts it, “Inspiration is for amateurs-the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Your environment is important
“The hardest part about change is not making the same choices you made the day before.” Joe Dispenza
Being mindful of your habits is the first step. Now you have to take the leap and consciously do or not do them.
So an aspect of your ritual that can help overcome the desire to be complacent is manipulating your environment.
If you want to start exercising, pack a gym bag and leave it next to the door. If you’re trying to quit smoking stop hanging out with the smokers. If you want to read more, put a book on your pillow before you leave the house.
Make it easy on yourself by building your environment to facilitate your new habits. Notice what things in your environment make it easy for you to fall back into the same old unwanted routine and get rid of them.
Brick by brick.
Habits Are Important
So many aspects of our lives are our habits. Your mood and temperament are the culmination of your habits of feeling. What you eat, the places you go, how you interact with people are all determined to some degree or another by your habits.
Look at anything good in your life and you will find habits that have either brought that good into your life or allow it to stay.
The same is true for any bad or unwanted things in your life. There are underlying habitual actions, thoughts and feelings that bring and keep these things close to you.
This is why it is important that when you identify the bad and try to replace them with the good, you stay vigilant. Habits are paths in your psyche. You have worn them in by repeating them for so long. They are easy to go down whenever you aren’t paying attention. “The path of least resistance” so to speak. The video below explains it perfectly.
Below is a downloadable template that I use to work on my Habits every month.
Simply download it, print it, and fill out what habits you want to work on. I actually took mine to Staples and had them make it bigger and laminate it so I use dry erase markers to fill it out. This will help you to start keeping a visual record of your progress. I have provided 9 spaces along the top for you to write in what habits you want concentrate on. An 31 columns down for the days of the month.
Some examples of mine are:
1. Sleep. I put an X if I get 6 to 8 hours.
2. Nutrition. X if I eat 2 healthy meals a day.
3. Learn. I mark this box with a W if I learn something that has to do with Work and S if I learn something to improve my Self.
4. Apply. Again a W if I apply something I learned for work and S if I apply something that I learned for my Self.
5. Exercise. 6. Meditation. 7. Family time, etc.
“When our behaviors match our intentions, when our actions are equal to our thoughts, when our minds and our bodies are working together, when our words and our deeds are aligned, there is an immense power behind any individual.” — Joe Dispenza
Here is our latest podcast episode where we discuss this in a bit more depth.