You’ve heard the words: “You are what you eat”, “You are what you do”, “Perfection is a lot of little things done well” etc. Little wins consistently earned lead to major victories. Small habits accumulated and executed over time are what really drive the changes we envision in our wishful thoughts. In this bit, I’d like to share with you a piece of information that will change the way you understand habits, and help you begin to see the way forward in your own situation.
In simple terms: Provided you’re adequately motivated, all you need to succeed in creating change is the vision.
You need to be able to say: ” I’m motivated to change x because y, and I’m going to do it by way of z. ” This declaration encompasses all the elements of the change formula (proposed by American organizational theorist Richard Beckhard and colleagues)
From there, you enter the realm of technicality. This is where we draw the line between planning, and execution.
When it comes to executing your plans (making serious change); I talked about one critical piece of information earlier but there’s really 2:
- It’s the quality of the habits you adopt that’s going to determine what results you get, not the quality of your motivation, or the strength of your character (These traits are only relevant to the degree that they are applied to the habits themselves. It all comes back to that. You ain’t got good systems in place = You ain’t going too far. It’s that simple)
- An understanding (however basic) of the mechanics behind how habits are made, and unmade.
Look at it this way:
You own a car that runs unreliably. Sometimes it takes you all the way to where you need to go. At times it breaks down unexpectedly. And in yet other instances, it won’t even start at all.
Would you take this car on a road trip?
Well, if it were your only means of transportation, you would. You would have to. But you’d agree that it wouldn’t bode too well for the trip in question.
In a situation like this, you’re at the mercy of whatever adventure you decide to take on. Depending on the nature of the trip (length, difficulty..etc), you might make it, and you might not. Especially if you’re not even a little bit familiar with the logic behind your engine’s vagaries.
You get my point. 🙂
Short of travelling with a mechanic (or buying a new car), you’d do well to have a few mechanical tricks up your own sleeves.
That’s how you make sure you’ll arrive at your destination. You’re not leaving anything to dumb chance. And that’s quite a responsible way to do business with yourself. Or with other people for that matter.
Last week I discussed insights from The Power of Habit, a book on how habits shape our lives. Here’s what else I got from it:
Habits are structured systems
Something happens in your environment, (the cue) which triggers in your mind the desire to engage in a certain activity (the routine), as your brain anticipates a reward.
I say “your brain” and not “you” because often “we” are not consciously aware of what we want with certain habits.
I’m fairly sure you too have certain “quirks”, things you do every day because… well.. “just cuz”. Pretty much out of the force of.. habit.
But have you ever stopped to consider why you’re doing it, really?
It’s interesting isn’t it. I remember before I learned about pacifying behaviors, I hadn’t fully grasped that my nail biting habit was a compensatory reaction to anxiety.
In this case anxiety was the cue, nail biting the routine, and (most of the time) relief/comfort was the reward.
But I never thought of it that way. Actually I never even questioned why I did it. I just did it because it made me feel better.
And in cases like these it’s hard to put a stop to it because the issue has to be resolved at the nerve. For example, bitter nail polish didn’t help much. That’s dealing with the symptoms. What did help, was dealing with the sources of anxiety.
From there, (and because old habits never fully “disappear” from your brain) all it took was for me to find new ways to find relief and comfort from stressful situations, that did not involve biting my fingers until they bleed.
That’s how you correct bad habits. Not through punishment, or admonition, or self-hate. Just applied knowledge. Habits emerge out of cues, follow a pattern, and lead to a reward. Identify the cue, and change the pattern as required.
The fact that you’re still giving yourself the same reward is not even the best part. It’s the most essential part.
Only the middle part (the routine) needs to change, for the habit to be changed
Obviously, even when you clearly identify what’s causing you to indulge in bad habits, it’s very likely you won’t be able to eliminate the cue completely. Anxiety is a reality of life, in my case. And in your case it could be something different. Words are flung around, events happen, things happen, shit happens, that’s just the nature of things.
What you can control is the routine you execute in the face of that nature. It’s all about finding healthier solutions to the same problems, while conserving the original payout as much as possible.
There’s people out there who are very sensitive to stress and still don’t bite their nails. What that means is that there’s other ways to cope.
And that works for whatever you’re dealing with.
Looking for these alternatives, keeping an open mind, being willing to try and experiment with new (and maybe unfamiliar) ideas. That’s where the honey is. That’s how you stumble upon new solutions to old problems.
It’s also how you win small victories everyday. And good things happen when you stack these up.