Substituting with dedication
Little Steps, Big Change
Even as I write this, I am snacking on a bag on nuts, mindlessly chomping as I pursue my personal muse for inspiration. Catching myself, I am reminded that every one of us have harmful habits, big, small and insidious which call for a makeover. Breaking unwanted habits is hard, especially since many of them become ingrained over a period of time, becoming a part of our personality, our DNA, hard to discard or replace. However, the larger truth is that bad habits interrupt our life, prevent us from accomplishing our goals, and frequently jeopardize our health or at least dissipate our time and energy. Says Wendy Wood, provost professor emerita of psychology and business at the University of Southern California and the author of Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes that Stick, “we tend to overestimate the extent to which our behavior is driven by our goals and desires, and underestimate the extent to which it’s driven by habit”.
Habits matter. Good habits which we carry like a mantle and bad habits which we skirt around – both style our temperament. Still, it is the harmful habits that are detrimental to one’s health, mental well-being or psychology fitness. Yet we wallow in them, caught up in their seductive lure, unable to break their shackle. I am guilty of nursing a host of bad habits like binge watching at the expense of my sleep, breaking my diet and walking goals, multitudes more, too long to list.
Thought, Feeling, Actions
As we all cross the half year threshold of 2023, I am setting a personal goal of examining my habits and realizing that many of my habits cause stress, hamper my way of life, doing more damage than good and that it is better to ditch them. It is time to kick start a new quest to a better me. Join me.
The goal is a to be a more centered, healthier, happier person. Even as this resonates, we are deeply aware that change is hard, so lets undertake a vow to be kind to ourselves, and find the tools to make it easier on ourselves. Studies have shown that while practicing new habits successfully, we need to place them in within a context. For example if we wish to include more vegetables, we should incorporate them at lunchtime, so that this meal becomes the trigger for the good habit we are trying to cultivate.
Another tool to use is habit stacking. This necessitates introducing a new habit to an existing habit. For instances, if the goal is to drink more water throughout the day, then start it right after brushing your teeth in the morning. This action will seem relatively easy since it is building on an existing habit that everyone of us do without fail. Another spin on this school of thought is to piggyback it on two habits, fill a glass and keep it by your bedside, so it will serve as a trigger both to go to bed, as well as to drink the water first thing in the morning. Most of us have discovered on our journey of personal reinvention that lapses are frequent and common, but as the American Journal of Lifestyle suggests making specific goals and writing them down, increases our chances of success.
Personality traits versus Habits
As I ruminate and write down, what specifically are the habits I wish to introduce and which I need to get rid of, I am shocked, surprised and almost horrified to realize that what I thought of as personality traits are instead "merely my bad habits".
On top of this heap is the need to be a perfectionist, the all or nothing attitude overlaying the fear of failure, fear of criticism and competitiveness, which can be draining and debilitating. It is time to let go. Going hand in hand with this, is ruminating anxiety, that vague cloud that doubts every decision about work and relationships, always second guessing oneself. It is imperative to practice challenging negative thoughts and focus instead on finding solutions to break this devious habit. Speaking for myself, mindful relaxation helps me snap out of the negative thinking loop.
Another insidious one - the constant worrier. Says Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author of 13 things Mentally strong People Don’t Do, “Worrying all the time puts your body in constant fight – or flight mode, spiking your heart rate, raising your blood pressure and creating inflammation”. Over the long term, chronic stress has been linked to migraines, sleep problems, immune system suppression and higher risk of stroke and heart attack. It is time to form a new and improved habit to allow oneself to worry for a designated, allotted amount of time, 15 minutes or so, maintain a journal and then letting go, releasing both your mind and body.
Another habit that can be exhausting at every level, is to dwell on the past. Let’s take an oath to break free of its shackles and face the future with hope, accepting the past for what it is. Going down this path of decoding habits has been an eye opener for me, giving me confidence and courage. Routines can be hardwired into our brains and these can be hard to kick, but recognizing them and making the decision to rectify them is the BIG first step. It fills me with optimism knowing I have the power to regulate myself, with the most influential tool at my disposal – my mind. Join me in my quest, you only have to change for the better.
We are stronger together