Habits can make you or break you

The evil demon under your bed. It lurks, watching your every move. It’s patient. It knows the time will soon come. And just like the crack of a whip it strikes, you are the unsuspecting victim. Most of us will know this story. The person trying to take leave from a bad habit only to find that it has you caught firmly in its grasp and will not let go.

It's just the beasts under your bed
In your closet, in your head

I’ve had a long road walking with my bad habits. I don’t put things back after using them, I rarely finish something I start, I smoke a pack a day… In the moment it might not seem like a big deal but take a step back and you realize the detriment of the compounding effect of the tiny little habits. The habit of quitting being my primary vice causes me to take one step forward and two steps back much too often in life.

You’ll recall from my previous blog, The 3 Stages of Habits, I wrote a brief overview of the anatomy of a habit; the cue, the routine, and the reward. When you take this model and break down your habits to where the cues, routines, and rewards fit in, you will start to get a better understanding of what prompts your behavior.

Take for example my habit of leaving things out after using them. I know that time is a very valuable resource and don’t want to waste my time on trivial things. I want to get done and get gone.

The cue, routine, reward cycle
Cue, Routine, Reward

I save 10 seconds now only to spend an hour later to clean everything up. It’s clearly a counterproductive habit.

My habit of quitting.

Cue: The learning curve gets too steep and I don’t want to waste time fumbling around trying to figure things out.
Routine: Quit it.
Reward: I have all that time back that I would have spent on learning a new skill.

You can already start to see how this method of analysis can help you uncover hidden motivations and factors preventing you from making a breakthrough. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to the cue-routine-reward model, there are other things that you can look at to gain even better clarity on why you might be failing at kicking the habit. I noted some of these elements in my blog, The Influencers Of Change. Let’s use this to dig in deeper.

Influencers of Change

If you want to make a change in the way you live your life, be it adopting a new habit or shifting your entire lifestyle, there are certain things that will stand in your way or enable you to succeed. People are constantly telling you that willpower and hard work will get you to your goals, but if this was the be-all and end-all then why has it not proven to be successful for you?

It’s true that you need to apply both willpower and hard work at a consistent pace to achieve results, but these two are only small pieces of the puzzle. Simply ramping up the intensity at which you churn out hard work and putting constant pressure on your willpower reserves is not an efficient strategy. At some point, you will burn out. It is here at the foot of the mountain where guilt and self-doubt will dig in and start to consume you.

I put in every single bit of myself that I could.  How did I still end up failing?
Defeated, at the foot of the mountain.

Personal

Desire

Do you have an honest desire to change? Do you feel it tugging at your attention during the day or night? Unless the desire to change comes from a place deep within you and you understand that it’s for your benefit, you will not easily find the motivation to push through with what needs to be done when the going gets tough. Make sure that you understand what it is that you really desire before you make a commitment. Clarity and understanding of yourself and your goals and desires will be the bedrock on which you build.

Skills

Do you have the skills that you will require to make the change? Knowing what skills or tools you will need on the way can help you make judgment calls ahead of time on whether or not your plan is viable, and to change the plan accordingly. These skills can be anything from time-management, self-control, or simply the art of saying “no”.

Social

Encouragement

Are the people who are around you everyday supportive? Are they positive and conductive of the energy that you will need to achieve your goal? A flower in a desert will wilt, and just so you will need people around you who can either share your vision or support it regardless of their opinion.

Guidance

Do you have someone you can turn to for advice or guidance? There will come a point when everything will seem hopeless and you start to question your strategy. It is at this time where a mentor or coach can help clear away the fog and help you realign your aim rather than giving up. If you are setting a momentous goal, I highly advise that you make sure to cover this base.

Structural

Rewards

How will you reward yourself? Humans are pleasure-seeking creatures. That is why reward-based systems are so effective. We use it all the time with children and yet we forget about it as we grow older. That is not to say it does not work on adults, quite the contrary.

Environment

Is your environment reflective of the destination you are setting your sights on? Does it promote the behavior that will get you there? The things surrounding you have an impact on your mental state and you need a clear head to focus on your goals.

Habits and their weight

Habits are ingrained over time. Your brain forms routines by strengthening the pathways (or synapses) between your most used brain cells. As you continue indulging a habit, its hold on you gets stronger over time. Thus it is not a wise strategy to try and quit a habit cold turkey. Use a systemic approach by breaking the habit down to it’s smaller parts (the cues, routines, and rewards). The smaller the challenge, the easier you will prevail.

Meditation II – Where’s my mind

Why practice this meditation

This meditation can be done at any time. It’s useful for becoming aware of the thoughts that go unnoticed throughout the day. You can use it to uncover hidden cues that lead to unwanted behavior.

  1. When you find that you have gone on auto-pilot and initiated in a bad habit or unwanted behavior, stop and trace back your thoughts.
  2. Trace your thoughts as far back as you can to the moment before you fell into your habit.
  3. If you have a notepad at hand, it’s useful to note down the thought and habit.
  4. Ask yourself how this thought contributed to your actions.
  5. What does the thought make you feel?
  6. If it makes you feel unpleasant, why?
  7. What do you need to do to let go of any unpleasant emotion connected to the thought?
  8. After pondering on the thought for a few minutes, take a few moments to quiet your mind.
  9. Do a short breathing exercise by counting your breaths until you reach ten.
  10. Repeat as many times as you like. There is no goal here except for you to relax your mind.
  11. When you are ready to conclude the session, take a deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds, and release.

Conclusion

In this blog, I gave you different perspectives to consider about your habits. The Cue, Routine, Reward cycle, Influencers of Change, and a short meditation that can help you uncover mental cues that fly under the radar. Use this information to analyze your habits and decide which one you want to take on first. Start small and work your way up from there. Once you have some momentum it will start to get easier with each challenge you take on. Habits don’t have to be your enemy, they can be your friend.

Love,

Angelique

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