April 9, 2014

The Habit of Success

TRUE CONFESSION:  I am a consummate hater of structure.  I have warred against schedules, routines, and anything that smacks of me having to do X at time Y or be in place Z all of my life.  Even now, as an adult, I still kick and scream against bedtime and end up staying up way later than I even want to just because I can.   

Admitting that does not make me proud.  It doesn't make me anything (except apparently resistant.)  I don't in any way advocate my aversion and I'm surely not trying to play it off as a virtue.  The truth is it lands me in the "own worst enemy" category at every award ceremony. I have made resisting structure a habit and not a successful one. It's a habit that I've decided it's time to break.

Habits are not easy to let go of once they've become entrenched and unconscious. It takes time and attention and more than anything, desire to change our habits. Desire never comes from someone else pointing them out or criticizing them. (unless we develop a deep desire to stop hearing about it.)

Our habits have determined our past, are now determining our present and will from here on out, determine our future.  Any one of our daily habits may seem insignificant, but habits have a cumulative effect.  Exercising one day will not yield measurable results, but if we keep it up day after day, the effects of that seemingly small daily habit will yield a fit and healthy body.  The other side of the coin is that any unhealthy habits have the same cumulative effect.  One day of smoking will do little.  Keep it up daily for months and years and we run a very real risk of some very nasty long term consequences.
Given then that habits have the power to determine, in a very real way, long term outcomes, it makes sense to me (finally) to develop better ones.

I've done a lot of research to find the best way to break old habits and develop new more empowering ones so I thought I'd share with you the steps I've learned.

1.  DECIDE WHICH HABITS NEED TO CHANGE.  I know! Duh right? But we have to start somewhere so - what are we doing or not doing that is producing less than a desirable outcome?  Knowing is half the solution, but unfortunately, the easier half.  Doing something different is the other half and if what we want to achieve is worth the effort, we're well on our way.

2. TRY TO FIND THE MOTIVE BEHIND THE HABIT.  Is it to avoid something we imagine as unpleasant?  What payoff are we receiving from the habit? Is fear an underlying cause for hanging on to it?  If so, we need to examine how rational the fear really is.  We can do that by playing the "what if X happens game" all the way to the end. If we follow the game all the way to the worst case scenario and decide that if that did indeed happen, we'd not only still be alive, but could live with and overcome it, it takes the bite out of moving forward. Another strategy is to visit our default future. To do that, we simply imagine what our lives will look like 5 years from now if we don't develop better habits. That should scare the bejeezers out of us.

3.  PRACTICE DELAYING GRATIFICATION.  Seldom do things worth having come instantly because of a wish or a whim. Our society has become conducive to expecting instant everything.  If you don't believe me, think about the last time it took an extra 2 seconds for your email to load and consider what a HUGE inconvenience that was. Developing patience can be made easier by keeping the future benefits in front of us daily - even HOURLY if necessary.  It might be helpful to even make a list of the benefits we're working for and keep that handy.

4.  DECIDE WHAT NEW BEHAVIORS TO REPLACE THE OLD HABITS WITH.  When we remove something from our lives, we create a vacuum that is fertile breeding ground for "weeds" to grow. If we want to successfully break a self defeating habit, we must replace it with something that will serve us better.

Everything I've read says that we can expect it to take at least 21 days before we feel comfortable with a new habit.  Probably longer before we actually begin to enjoy it, so it's going to take some dogged stick-to-itivity.  If what we're hoping to achieve doesn't stir up enough of that to make it worth pushing through at least 21 days, it's probably a good idea check our desire meter. 

No matter what people say, we do NOT change because other people want us to.  We may TRY to change to please other people.  We may WANT to change to please other people, but the truth is desire is internal.  Unless we want to change, no amount of outside guilt, cajoling, threatenings, ultimatums etc. will ever produce lasting results.  I love the quote: "A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still."  

So, armed with the steps above, I've started a new program of developing the "habits of success."  So far, I'm actually enjoying the satisfaction that's coming with accomplishing more each day.  It feels good - when I finally do go to bed (hey, some habits are harder to break than others) to go over my day and feel good about the results.

I hope these steps work for you too.  If you've come across other ideas you'd like to share, I'd love to hear about them.  After all, it's going to be a long 21 days!


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