Habits are the way we unconsciously go about our day. Some behaviors are good for us, and some aren’t. But do we evaluate them periodically to see if we should alter the behaviors for our personal growth? Many times we only look at them if there is a health concern. But we all should take stock as to whether our habits are serving us, or are they keeping us from growing and expanding our souls?
Our habits have tremendous power in our daily lives, particularly when we stay on autopilot mode. We can know we need to change, we have the right intentions, but picking the alternative path to reach our goal proves more challenging than we thought.
Becoming aware of those things we don’t realize we do out of routine takes effort on our part. Sometimes it takes another to point out what we are doing may be more harmful than good. We all develop coping mechanisms to deal with things that may have worked at one point in our lives, but today no longer serves us. But with awareness comes the opportunity for change and growth.
It’s not just about breaking habits that no longer help us, but also adding habits that will nurture us. By tracking our daily activities and routines, we can assess our behaviors to determine their usefulness. If they are no longer benefitting us, then we can replace them with other practices that do.
In essence, if we want to direct our lives, we must take control of our consistent actions. It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently. ~ Tony Robbins
Habits and Our Brain
Our brains like patterns. It also has many essential things to keep track of, like breathing, constricting the heart muscle so blood can be pumped through our bodies. So the mundane activities we do every day becomes habits. The automatic pilot setting our brains use for our daily routines.
Mammals are creatures of habit because it’s an efficient way to go through the day. These behaviors are initiated by a cue and are habitually based on time of day, location, or another person. These signals cause us to respond in a specific pattern each time we are in the same situation. If there isn’t an adverse result, the brain learns that we need the conduct, and it forms a habit over time.
For instance: the alarm goes off, and we stumble to the bathroom is our cue. Our behavior is to take a shower. The positive result is we feel refreshed and awake. And as we repeat these actions each day, we will perform them without thinking about the actions we are taking–thus, it forms a habit.
Now, if the return provides us with a potent reward, the habit is harder to break. For example, when we eat chocolate, neurotransmitters release dopamine and gives us a sensation of pleasure. Our brain likes dopamine, and it’s the critical chemical messenger that helps form our habits. So, when our brains know it will feel good, it drives us to repeat the activity and becomes the default action to take.
Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character. ~ Stephen Covey
Tracking Our Daily Habits
The best way to become aware of our routine is to write it down. To understand these patterns, we need to track our daily behaviors for one full week. Look at the rituals we repeat. Write down the activities based on the time of day, our morning routine, lunch activities, after-work schedule, and bedtime routine.
Now let’s examine each one of these habits. Are they serving a purpose? Do they cause us to stay grounded, or do they cause us stress? If we need to do them, can we put them at a different time, so it doesn’t sap our energy? Can what we do each day be improved? Are there habits we connect that may be better for us to split? By understanding our daily routines, we can learn to maintain our energy levels, which protects us from getting overly tired during the day.
Once we have assessed our behaviors and determined which ones no longer serve us, we can look at ways to replace them with practices that would be better. We can also look at adding additional ones to improve our lives.
You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine. ~ John C. Maxwell
Retraining Our Brain
Many of us make lists each day, but that doesn’t mean we accomplish all we set out to do. We first need to believe that we can make the change we desire. Yes, we need to believe in ourselves. But research has shown that we can rewire our brains through a process known as neuroplasticity.
The way to replace a bad behavior with a better one, once we are aware, is to interrupt ourselves and to replace the practice with one that is healthier for us. We need to look for the cues that trigger the habit. By identifying them, it will help us understand how to change the pattern of behavior.
When we recognize a prompt, we need to disrupt the routine. The best way to break a habit is to replace it with new conduct. This new practice interferes with the old one and prevents the brain from staying in autopilot mode. Also, keep this new behavior as simple as possible. We want our brains to have an easy transition, so it becomes our new autopilot mode.
Keep in mind the long-term goal of the new habits we want to integrate into our lives. This vision helps us to stay vested in the alteration we are working towards- a better lifestyle. Be persistent. Although we may struggle the first few times, we work on changing a habit, but it becomes second nature as we persist.
You leave old habits behind by starting out with the thought, ‘I release the need for this in my life.’ ~ Wayne Dyer
Replacing Habits with Better Ones
Most of us want to be healthier than we are. To achieve big goals, we need to make small changes. For example, this year, I want to drink lemon water when I get up in the morning. But my routine doesn’t get me to the kitchen until all I want is my morning tea, Earl Grey, hot. So, for me to have success with this new habit takes planning. Each evening I prep the lemon water and place it in the bathroom. When I see it, I drink it. But if I don’t prepare it the night before, it doesn’t happen at all. With each minor success I have, the easier it becomes to keep the extra practice.
Another way to increase our success is to write down our plan of action. So, in my planner, I have an area to write out new habits I want to integrate into my daily life. I’ve also put sticky notes in places to help remind me of those practices I want to cultivate. With a plan of action and the reminders, adding the new behaviors will be successful because I’m doing all I can to align my routine with my goals.
If you pick the right small behavior and sequence it right, then you won’t have to motivate yourself to have it grow. It will just happen naturally, like a good seed planted in a good spot. ~ BJ Fogg
Choosing New Habits
When we’re thinking about how we can become a better person, choosing new habits can help us on this journey. Let’s look at simple ways we can adapt our behaviors to those that serve us better.
- To eat healthier comes down to preparation. Several years ago, I took gluten out of my diet because it caused inflammation in my body. So, I began looking at labels, and if it had wheat in it, I didn’t buy it. I also removed all other foods already in my kitchen containing wheat. This elimination meant there were no temptations in the house that would cause me to eat gluten I was trying to avoid. A little prep time with meal planning, not bringing tempting foods into our homes, and cleaning out our kitchens makes eating healthier a bit more manageable.
- Adding movement into our routines is vital for our overall health. I have a sedentary job and have never been a sports enthusiast. To add movement into my life, I brought the elliptical out of the basement and put it somewhere I would be more likely to use it. Then I created a playlist to listen while exercising. I started with five minutes each day, then increased it by five minutes each week. As long as the activity is fun and elevates our heart rate, it’s exercise, so find something you enjoy doing.
- To help me keep a positive attitude, I’ve limited my mass media exposure. I stay informed but limit how much negative news I see. I have cleansed my social media, so I only see positive and uplifting posts. I only share those things that are beneficial to others. I don’t shame anyone for their beliefs or fearful reactions to other people’s posts.
The trick to success is to choose the right habit and bring just enough discipline to establish it. ~ Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
Increasing Our Enthusiasm for Change
So, we have the desire to alter our behaviors and form better habits. We’ve set our intention, we have a plan of action, but we’re still struggling with implementing the change we desire. What can we do to help ourselves?
Let’s tap into our emotions. Let’s look for inner inspiration to propel us forward towards implementing the new habit. Many times our emotional responses help us in the learning process.
Each time we are successful in our minor change, encourage ourselves through our self-talk. Allow ourselves to pause and feel the happiness we have in doing the behavior we desire. The positive emotion we feel helps retrain our brain to accept this feeling as the reward for the new habit.
Our enthusiasm for the new practice to take hold allows us to overcome any frustrations and struggles we may have through the replacement process. The more we repeat this procedure, the more permanent it becomes. Visualize our success, talk about it with others, track our improvement in our journal.
Realize that stress may cause a reversion back to an old habit. If it does, don’t blame or shame. Take responsibility for what occurred, forgive ourselves, and try to determine what caused the misstep. Then move forward with a renewed commitment to the goal.
Reward our success, so we stay inspired. A little treat in keeping with our overall goals helps us maintain the behavior and rewards the brain for its rewiring accomplishment.
Successful people aren’t born that way. They become successful by establishing the habit of doing things unsuccessful people don’t like to do. ~ William Makepeace Thackeray
Moving Forward with Better Habits
Habits can be helpful or hurtful to our well-being. Research from Duke University sites habits, not consciously thinking, determine over 40% of our behaviors. So there is enormous potential for us to alter our lives by eliminating habits that no longer serve us.
So, there’s no better time than the present to evaluate our current habits. As we determine which ones we need to alter, we can implement a plan of action to succeed. With each small success, we will develop the skills we need to improve all areas of our lives by changing our routines.
Good daily habits, those that elevate our mood, energy, and health, put our success on autopilot because the brain wants a routine. These good practices have a cumulative effect on our lives as they empower us to control our destiny, health, and happiness.
If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception; it is a prevailing attitude. ~ Colin Powell
Do you need support to help you access your habits and cultivate better ones? Do you want a strategy to help you overcome the ego’s limiting beliefs and live a successful life? If so, please contact me, and we can put together an action plan for you to create the life you desire.