“Only a habit can subdue another habit.”
I’m surrounded by disorder and can’t find anything. I work from home and changes to my environment impact my activities pretty heavily. And, when our house flooded from a broken water pipe two weeks ago, the routines and habits that govern most of my life were completely undone.
Bummer, yes. Opportunity, yes.
Many of my routines and habits have been uprooted, opening the door and creating opportunity for new patterns and structures that will result in habit replacements. It’s similar to what NLP calls “pattern interrupt,” a process that we found worked beautifully when our kids were young and battling each other. With my routines “blown out of the water,” it’s the perfect opportunity to build some new patterns into my daily life.
Yes, we are creatures of routine and habits rule our lives. Habits form unconscious structures that determine much of our behavior and govern 40% or more of our daily activities. So much of what we do is habit that we take it for granted and rarely question the reasons why, or the benefits of the habits that run our lives.
They are a double edge sword. Without them, our brains would become inoperable, overwhelmed by the details of our daily lives. But habits can also create limiting beliefs and behaviors that don’t serve us well.
As Charles Duhigg explains in his bestseller “The Power of Habit,” the good news is that habits are not your destiny. They can be ignored, changed or replaced. He goes on to state “when a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So, unless you deliberately fight a habit, unless you find new routines, the pattern will unfold automatically.”
So how do you fight a habit? In baby steps, my friend, in baby steps. In so doing, you will build momentum and parallel habits in other areas of your life may lose their strength as well.
Here’s a simple plan to change some behaviors and build new habits:
Start Small – Make a list of all the behaviors and habits that you want to change. Pick one them that isn’t climbing Mount Everest. Maybe it’s making the bed before you leave the house or something. Then, write down a replacement pattern for the old routine.
Here’s my example:
- I will write down on a notecard “the first time I go into the kitchen in the morning, I will grab a lemon and drink a cup of warm lemon water”
- I’ll stock up on club soda to curb the “bubbly” craving and remove my standard morning beverage (Diet Coke) from the house
- I will make an “x” on a calendar for every day I chose the new behavior instead of succumbing to an old routine
Decide how long you’re going to practice your new habit – maybe a week, maybe a month, maybe somewhere in-between. But definitely not forever. That would be setting yourself up for failure. Ask yourself the question, “what if I did this for (fill in the blank). How would that make me feel?” And then make your decision.
Build a Chain – accountability works for me. Hanging a monthly calendar somewhere visible and noting the days that I follow through on my new intentions feels good. I’m like the child putting a star next to their work chart for every day I did my chores. I’m proud of myself. I like seeing all those stars lined up in a row. If picking up a packet of stickers for your calendar makes you feel good, then by all means do it.
Plan for the Weekend – decide how you’re going to keep your new behavior going during the days you have off from your normal routine, like the weekend. Have a plan, keep it simple and doable. And then mark your calendar and see how many days you can link together.
This isn’t about Perfection – focus on what you’re doing right. Give yourself a “good job!” If you slip up, give yourself permission to be ok with that and move on. Check in briefly to see if something triggered your slip and how you might handle it the next time it happens. Be kind to yourself.
Think about this. If a friend asked for your help for seven days, at a certain time, for ten minutes (or less), would you do it? I bet I know the answer.
If your friend needed your help for another week, would you continue? I bet I know the answer.
So be a friend to yourself. Take it step at a time and congratulate yourself for every small victory. Keep building on your achievements until your brain takes over and says “I’ll take it from here now.”