360 Degree Health, Part 2: HABITS.
Haven’t read Part 1? Find it here… Part 1: MATH.
We've all heard it before - we're creatures of habit. Familiarity and repetition are soothing to us. In a world where things are often outside of our control, habits are dependable friends that we can rely upon to meet our expectations.
Not all habits are bad, but they always serve a purpose. And they often award instant gratification or relief. Even if they’re not so healthy and have lasting consequences, the effects they have in the moment make them hard to change.
21 used to be the magic number: we used to hear it took 21 days of real conscious effort to drop or form a habit. Unfortunately, psychologists have recently found it takes a lot longer.
There’s a reason for that - habits are so engrained in us, they're imprinted into our neural pathways. The connection is deep. And they don’t function in the same way as our logic, decision-making, and reasoning do - they don’t even cross paths with that part of our brain.
So when you only make the decision to leave a habit in the dust, no strategy in sight, you will return to it faster than you’d like to admit. It’s hard to accept the empty space left by a habit’s absence, and even harder to resist its effects on us, so it’s much easier to put it right back where it “belongs.”
I encountered this for years with habitual drinking. Let’s be real, we live in a culture where alcohol consumption goes hand in hand with the events in our lives that are the most fun. And because it’s associated with fun, we bring it in to liven up an occasion (cleaning the house, watching movies, feeling bored…).
At a certain point, I became aware of how prevalent alcohol was in my life. It honestly scared me a little, so I decided I had to stop drinking so often. I was aware alcohol = poison, and that it slows your metabolism like crazy. All of that said, I was shocked at how difficult it was to cut it out. It felt like utter failure when I would get swept up in the fun atmosphere where a drink was a familiar friend. I would allow it to happen, and later marvel at my lack of self control.
If you’ve felt this way, fear not! Here are a few strategies I find are the most effective: negative reinforcement, phase the habit out, or replace it. Maybe a combination of all three. I’m speaking from experience - don’t try to cut out a habit cold turkey. Save yourself the trouble, it rarely works.
What ended up working for me to curb my habitual drinking was associating the act with the pain of hangovers (negative reinforcement). It wasn’t that hard, (and so obvious), because my hangovers are KILLER. It took time though, because the pain was rarely in the moment - I had to do some mental acrobatics to hold the pain close while in the moment of promised pleasure. That first sip.
At the same time, I began replacing the alcohol with other beverages so I still had something in my hand (a small but important detail). It took time, but I slowly started to realize how much fun I’d still have without getting booze tired and then hung over the next day. Yet even after a solid couple of months, there were still moments I’d fall into the old pattern.
The point I’m making is I knew habitual drinking didn’t support the healthy lifestyle I wanted. I knew I could be happier and feel better, and that if I wanted to live a life of quality for as long as possible, I couldn’t drink like that. But the logic wasn’t enough to make the change I needed.
The happy news is, as we work through the conscious effort it takes to change a bad habit (even in the beginning), we feel SO MUCH BETTER. It's a combination of "I've taken control of my life" + "I'm investing in my wellbeing" + "Now that I'm not drinking every night I physically feel so much better." There's a lot of motivation to be found day to day, even in our weaker moments, once we start to feel the effects of our healthier choices. That conscious awareness and effort is key.
Welcome the “pitfalls.” Allow the gradual shift, and love yourself through it.
Ready for Part 3? Click here: Part 3: Secrets