Most of us (if not all!) have areas of our lives we struggle with. Whether it is our weight that is the source of our woes, our fitness that leaves much to be desired, a chronic inability to save money or a life that overwhelms us, we are forever wishing things were different.
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But then again, not all of us (sadly none) are endowed with a fairy God-mother or a magic wand! As a result, we continue to live in the space between where we are and where we would like to be, a space of self-doubt and regrets, that leaves us capable of half-hearted attempts at best.
What we need instead, is a change of habits. This should come as no surprise – after all, we are creatures of habit. Research shows that we spend over 90% of our lives engaged in thoughts and behaviors that happen unconsciously. This is not always a good thing though. We miss many moments of awe and wonder and fail to harness the many opportunities around us.
But always being present has its downsides. Our brains are a mere 4% of our average weight, and yet hog up to 20% of our energy intake. In its own attempt at energy conservation, our brain assigns many of our thoughts and behaviors to the lower regions of the brain that take up little energy. Which patterns become unconscious and which stay within our conscious stream is the basis of purposeful living.
So how do we thoughtfully structure powerful habits into our lives? A little help can go a long way…
Choose Your Habits Wisely
Know your purpose and direction in life and the goals that you set in line with it. Now monitor yourself for a few days. What are the habits that help you in reaching your goals and what are the ones that hold you back? What new habits can you begin and which old ones will need to go? You may be mindlessly snacking on the subway ride home and becoming increasing frustrated with your weight. Why not use that time to connect with friends on the phone, or read an engaging book to get to your goal of 10 a year?
Know Yourself Well
Many of us start with great intentions, but get side tracked before real change can happen. It is often not a matter of motivation or willpower. Author Gretchen Rubin’s research on habits shows that it is more a case of not knowing yourself well enough.
When we try and implement habits that do not take our inherent nature and personality into account, we set ourselves up for failure. According to Rubin, as far as habits go, we can generally be divided into two main personality types – the Abstainers and the Moderators.
Would you rather cut out all desserts from your life in your quest for dropping ten pounds or would you rather indulge in a moderate amount of dessert twice a week towards your goal?
Schedule Your New Habit In
When we schedule something in, our brain considers it one of the 10 commandments. This means it does not spend endless hours arguing with itself about why skipping exercise that day would not be a good idea, and thus leaving precious little willpower to avoid the cookie tray in the office kitchen!
And if you feel your brain can have a mind of its own sometimes, have someone hold you accountable. Get an exercise buddy, share your schedule with someone who checks up on you or commit to reporting your success regularly to a mentor figure.
Count On Cues, Coupling And Carrots
Some changes in life simply require greater discipline. According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, cues are a great way to help us implement those changes by acting as reminders that help us stick with our habits. Leaving a book on top of your computer will remind you to read for 20 minutes before you dive into social media.
However, some habits are more painful, and since we are naturally primed to avoid pain, a great way to make sure we do what we set out to do is by pairing the painful new habit with something we like to do. This is called coupling – as in watching your favorite show while exercising.
You can also use rewards as motivation, initiating the dopamine response that keeps you on track. Strangely enough, something as minor as ticking off the item on your schedule can release almost the same jolt of dopamine as something pricey.
One final word on habits – how we live our lives affects others around us. We might want to go to bed early, but if our partner works late hours, the evening is perhaps the only time we get together. What is the best habit you can implement that will ensure that you get the hours of rest you need while also nurturing the relationship you care about? These answers are not always easy. But then who said life was? Which is all the more reason we implement good habits that help us in our goals, so that we have ample energy left to deal with the complexities of life.