Behaviors that we repeat over and over again with very little thought.
Habits are great because they allow us to conserve our mental energy; instead of weighing every decision we make, we simply have to bring up what we want to do and we can be whisked away on a magic carpet ride. Our habit will let us take action, think a thought, or feel a feeling without having to decide whether we should or shouldn’t.
This can be both good and bad. It’s great when we have an automatic habit that works for us. We wake up, get out of bed, and before or after getting ready for our day, we brush our teeth. It’s a no-brainer, almost literally.
We don’t have to sit down and weigh the pros and cons of brushing our teeth.
We don’t have to be in a certain mood, or be highly motivated.
And we don’t have to create a vision board to get excited about our tooth-brushing outcome.
Why? Because we have created a strong pathway in our brain.
When we do _______, then we brush our teeth.
Habit formed. Habit maintained. It’s maintained because we do it often and our brain takes over and puts us on automatic speed dial.
What happens when we have a habit that we ‘do’ and it doesn’t serve us? It seems to happen almost without our consent. We’re in a certain situation and bam! Without it seeming like we’re even thinking about it, we’re doing it!
And what can we do to stop our habits that don’t serve us?
First, we need to notice them. Not only what they are, but when and how we do them. What are the triggers or causes that precede this habit?
And here’s a big question: What are you getting out of this habit?
If you’re anything like me and my clients, you’ll probably say, “Nothing! There is no benefit to doing this habit and I’d give anything to stop doing it.”
Slow down and think about this:
Every single action we take, every pattern of thinking a certain way or slipping into a comfortable (even if it’s painful) feeling has a secret upside.
Even if you aren’t consciously aware of this upside, it’s there. It’s a hidden benefit that you must acknowledge before you can let go of the habit.
Here are some examples of what I mean by hidden benefits:
- You are in the habit of blowing off your exercise routine. You are frustrated with yourself and want to move your body. But it’s hard to get out of bed. So what’s the benefit of this habit? It could simply be that you allow yourself to be lazy. To sleep in. To have some down time.
- One of your habits is to zone out in front of the television while watching your favorite reality show. And when you zone out, chips and junky snacks somehow find their way into your mouth. What is the benefit of this habit to you? Well, it’s letting you escape from the stress and conflicts of your day.
- Or, you might have a habit of starting an eating plan to lose some extra weight on a Monday. Every Monday. And usually by Wednesday, you’re back where you started. So why do you keep on setting that Monday goal? Because it temporarily let’s you think you are taking action and making progress. And that feels good, even though it doesn’t last.
When we look at these examples, it’s easy to see that in the moment of doing your habit, you think you are getting something worthwhile. But in retrospect, you’re disappointed with yourself because you know what you are getting isn’t nearly as good as what you really want.
So, how can you get rid of some of these habits that aren’t in your best interest?
First, you notice what the habits are.
Then, you take them apart. Deconstruct them so you can see what hidden benefit you might be getting from doing your habit.
And now, you need to replace what you were getting from the habit in a way that genuinely helps you.
If you consistently blow off your exercise because you long to be lazy and have some down time, then consider taking a break and giving yourself some down time. Schedule it in. Don’t sneak it. You need it!
If you regularly zone out and eat mindlessly to escape uncomfortable feelings, learn how to manage your mind so you can choose better feelings. Yes, this is possible!
And if you keep starting your weight loss plan on a Monday only to fall off midweek, understand what you are doing and instead, plan and take the tiniest step toward your goal. Each tiny step will build on the one before it. And instead of setting meaningless Monday goals, you will actually move yourself towards what you want with a tiny chunk of your goal that is so easy, you have no excuse not to do it.
So the next time you are frustrated with your inability to stop doing something, remember that you must be getting something out of it. Figure it out and switch it up.
You can do this.