Breaking Down Habits, Creating Change

mug of coffee

 

 

Habits have been on my mind this week, old ones reared their heads, new ones trying to take hold, I did my best to observe. To observe oneself without judgment is like acquiring a super power, suffice it to say I often fall short. And then again, I do my best to sit with that next incarnation of judgment in non-judgment, at this point, it’s getting rather existential… someone pass me the cheese puffs and queue up Netflix that’s so much easier. About those habits.

The word “habits” and even “habitual” get a bad rap. Habits are simply a pattern of behavior, anything that we do consistently. The majority of human behavior is based on habit. Ever drive to work to realize that you don’t really recall getting there? Yeah, me too. Habits can be positive and negative, or some combination of both. For instance, the guy sitting next to you on the bus is probably very grateful for your hygiene habits, but you might not be so stoked about your social media habits. Suffice it to say that some habits work for us and others break us down.

Let’s start with a little positive behavior support: take a look around, see all of the things that are working in your life, take a moment to reminisce about how you have facilitated each. Kudos. On to those self-defeating patterns, they necessitate some unpacking. Nothing can happen without an awareness of the self-defeating habit. Identifying what requires change may be glaringly obvious, or it may need a more subtle discovery process. These can be big things like my alcohol consumption is out of hand or it could be a smaller issue like my morning routine with the kids is too stressful.

Awareness is the first step and is also called conversion. It could look like a wake-up call, a crisis, a bottoming out, or a spiritual emergency. It could also sound like an answer to a pressing internal question, “Why am I unhappy?”, “Why do I feel so stressed?”, “How did that block of time disappear?”, “How could I take care of myself better?”. Questions preclude answers.

The second step is the decision to do what it takes. This involves you choosing a different behavior and practicing it long enough to create a new self-enhancing habit. The action step is the hardest part executing because the process deteriorates the strategies that we have used to cope, or meet our deepest needs. That’s no small feat.

The action of change has to be concrete, practical, focused and consistent. The jury is out about how long it takes for a new habit to stick, each guru proclaiming just nine weeks, just 16 weeks, just nine months. I think it’s safe to say that you have to behave intentionally about it until it no longer is a conscious effort. Then you have to check back in every so often to make sure that the new shiny one is still trumping the amended or eradicated behavior. Set up a system for that, it may be a friend; it may be a tracking process like journaling or a tracking app. The process is profoundly personal. Keep in mind that practicing a habit gives it life. Be sure that you’re animating the ones that best serve you.

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