Habits… soo what is it.. exactly? and how can I change?

Many times when we think of habits we think of negative things like smoking or eating excessively or driving too fast.  But habits in the positive sense can be very useful — I mean who wants to have to motivate themselves every time they have to brush their teeth, hang up their keys or feed the dog?   For that matter who wants to have to motivate their child to feed the dog, hang up their backpack or do their homework?  I don’t know about you but it can be awfully tiring to not only remind yourself but your child as well,  — so let’s break it down a bit.

Just what is a habit?

Habits are those things we do without thinking – things like:

Your drive to work

Washing your hands after the bathroom

Throwing your clothes in the hamper (for some of us)

Making your coffee in the morning

But what are those things that really would get done much easier if they were habits?

Those activities that you either want to do for an extended period of time, like many months or years, or activities you want to do frequently—say one or more times a day even if it’s only for a few weeks.

If we make those things habits they stand a better chance of actually happening so let’s say you want to run every morning or at least a few times a week.  If you make that a habit say every Monday and Wednesday and you get up and put your gear on the better chance this will become a habit and will actually get done!

See it takes energy to first remember to do something and then energy to get motivated to do it.

Let’s say you want to drink more water — or stay in touch with your loved ones or write in a journal and as I am saying these things do you think, “Oh one more thing to do, aggghhh.”   What if you did these things without even thinking about it, without hemming and hawing and sifting through your mind before actually deciding on an action?

Well, here are some core strategies for building your new habits (according to Dr Stephanie A. Burns).

So in order to create a new habit there are only a few steps that need to be taken and these are steps that we all possess and have the willpower to do.

First you have to decide on what you want to be a habit.  It is important that you be as specific as possible.  A habit of drinking more water is problematic whereas a habit of drinking 6 glasses a day is easier to install
You have to set up triggers to help you to remember the action at the time you want to do it.

It is hard to install a new habit if you keep ending up at the end of the day remembering that you were meaning to take the stairs at work instead of the elevator.
During the time before the action becomes a habit (perhaps the first few weeks) you will need to use external triggers or reminders.  Make it easy to remember what you are trying to do

Alarms, notes, friends to call you, rubber bands on your wrist, padlocks or obstacles.
Rituals support remembering – do it in the same place, same time, same surroundings if possible for the first few weeks.
Once you have remembered you have to be able to motivate yourself to act.  SO before we discuss how to do that we should discuss repetition.

Installing new behaviors of any type take repetition over time.   Just like the negative ones we all have had to break and which have been habits instilled over time.   So how much repetition or how long it’s going to take really depends on what you are trying to install.

If for instance it’s something like getting up earlier, writing in a journal or doing a load of laundry, you would do the entire action at one time whereas if you wanted to go for a walk every morning for 30 minutes it might be a little more challenging because of the length of time.

So to instill a habit like this you need to first get up and get out the door.   Not necessarily thinking, “I have to walk 30 minutes” at first just maybe 5 or ten minutes.   The idea here is to keep it short and doable and you go expand your time.

Just get the starting part handled and then build on it from there.

Instilling new habits can take anywhere from two to three weeks to install to upwards of twelve weeks – so try to be patient with yourself, you’ll get there!  It only costs you a little commitment to the action and compassion when you miss doing your action.  It’s okay — just get right back in the game!

Remember to pat yourself on the back every time you are successful at your action! (You deserve it).
Look for small improvements.
Changing behavior is hard so you’re doing great just in making a plan.

And really do whatever it takes for the task for at least the first few weeks