Habits are power. Like all power, it can be used for good or for ill. We have a tendency to focus on our negative habits. A search for “habit” graphic art resulted in pictures of a lot of bad habits such as smoking and overeating. We talk about our bad habits and work to get rid of them, but rarely mention our good habits.
In reality our days are made up of good, bad, and neutral habits. One study done by a researcher at Duke determined that 40% of our daily activities are habits which can include: the time we get up, the way we get ready in the morning, our mid-morning trip to the vending machine, our lunch-time exercise, and our before-bed snack or sit-ups. Some habits help us more than others.
Intentionally crafting useful habits can help us achieve our goals. However, we first need a clear vision of a goal that speaks to our heart. (You can read about the importance of a Big Why for your goal here: https://kathystoddardtorrey.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/goals-big-why-and-little-hows/) Using the power of habits without direction can powerfully move you around in circles. First, we clearly define our goal.
Then we explicitly state the steps that we need to take to achieve our goal. It’s important to break big goals down into little steps. Then we look at our small steps and figure out a way to make them into habits. Let’s look at an example.
I want to do a better job of taking care of myself. My goal is a moderate level of fitness and health, nothing extreme. I can visualize a vibrant, energetic me. It speaks to my heart; I can remember vividly how great I feel when I am taking time to exercise and eat well. It’s a wonderful feeling of power and I am way more motivated when I feel that way. I have a goal with a Big Why.
Now I create a list of things I want to do to achieve that goal. It could include lots of things like walking for 20 minutes four times a week, doing yoga twice a week, cutting out all soft drinks, etc. I don’t want to tackle them all at once. For a sustained lifestyle change, I pick one, make it a habit, and then move on to the next one.
When I do leadership workshops, I am standing up all day. When I stand for long periods of time, my back hurts if I haven’t been doing abdominal exercises regularly so that’s what I want to start with. I could decide to incorporate abdominal exercises in a variety of ways. I could do them first thing in the morning or take a break at a set time on the days when I am working at home. I think I want to do them first thing in the morning, Monday through Friday. Now I have established what I want to do, when I want to do it, and why I want to do it. All necessary!
Now comes the work. I must set my alarm 15 minutes earlier than I need to get ready. As soon as the alarm goes off, I get down on the floor at the foot of the bed and do my abdominal exercises. It takes around a month to create a habit so that means purposefully and intentionally getting up Monday through Friday and doing the exercises. It will take some willpower in the beginning to make myself get up and do them. However, it gets easier as time goes on. Eventually, I will stop fighting myself and just get up and do it without any expenditure of emotional energy. When that happens, I’ve made it a habit! It takes some willpower to get a habit established, but once it’s rolling along it takes very little emotional energy to maintain it. Once this habit is firmly in place, I can establish another one. Doing pushups in a door frame at 10:30am comes to mind, but it could be anything that will help me move closer to my goal.
One-by-one we can build a foundation of habits that will help us achieve our goals with little stress and angst. Uncle Ben told Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and that is especially true about the power of habits in relation to the responsibility we have to ourselves to lead a fulfilling life. If we use the power of habits without thinking or planning, we create a life of frustration and stagnation. If we use the power wisely, we can achieve great things and create the life of our dreams.
Watch the video on this topic here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAziOrVsM3E