Habits Die Hard

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Welcome to Format Free Fridays, the one day a week when I break the format of answering your questions and I dispense that which we rarely welcome in life: Unsolicited advice.

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act...it's a habit." Aristotle

With that said, old habits die hard.  Just recall your last New Year’s resolution.  How long did that last?  Try this:  Stand up with your arms crossed in front of your chest.  Now switch the cross - put the opposite arm on top.  How comfortable does that feel? I’m betting not very.

Habits help us through the day, eliminating the need to strategize about each tiny decision.  Sometimes I find myself on a subway train and I can’t remember actually choosing to get on the train.  That’s my brain’s way of conserving energy (or it’s early onset of Alzheimer’s…I’m choosing to align with the first belief). Habits, when positive, can be very helpful.  When they’re negative they can be a bitch to break and can return in the blink of an eye.

The vast majority of life is habitual.  We do the same things we did yesterday, the day before that and each day that we can remember.  In fact, generally speaking, out of every 1,000 decisions we make, we only process about 40 of them on a conscious level.  That’s a lot of unconscious thinking.  It’s no wonder most people aren’t living the lives they desire.

So how do you change a habit? Here are 5 tips that can help:

REASONS: You need great reasons to keep your momentum going after the first few days of starting a new habit. Write a list of compelling / emotional reasons why you MUST change this habit TODAY.  Why not next week? Next month? Images work best, so if, for example, you’re trying to lose weight, put a picture of yourself at your ideal weight in the list.  Post the list or email it to yourself so you always have it available. When you feel yourself wanting that second helping of food, pull out that list.  It will help keep you clear about why you’re foregoing it.

30 DAYS: I’m a big fan of the 30-day experiment.  Most of us can suck anything up for 30 days which is just long enough to plant the seeds of a new habit. After 30 days, you can commit to another 30-days. It’s the only sane way to do it. Small chunks.

KEEP IT SIMPLE: Stick with one habit at a time.  Don’t become scattered or overly ambitious.  Try it my way.  Your way got you reading an article on how to change habits.

GET SUPPORT: I find that I do everything more consistently and better when I have a partner either doing it with me or to whom I’m accountable.  If you don’t have anyone who wants to lose weight with you, find a friend who you can use as an action partner.  Email the person at the beginning of every day telling them what you expect to accomplish and then call them at the end of the day to give an update on your progress.

REWARDS: Forming a new habit can suck.  Balance out the discomfort with consistent rewards. A client I had wanted to lose weight, so of course she set a goal weight, but more importantly she decided that she’d reward herself for every 10 lbs she lost by buying herself a new toy:  Custom sneakers, a new treadmill, etc.  I thought the strategy was brilliant.

After you make your habits, your habits make you.