Do you get up at the same time every morning? Do you drive to work the same way every day? What about when you return home? Do you have a similar routine upon arrival?
We all have habits and routines we adhere to. It is part of our human operating system that allows us to focus on the more pressing matters. If you had to actually think about everything we do, we would have little left for more complex matters. However, it is good to periodically take inventory of the habits we have installed and ask if they actually serve us. If we, upon returning home from work, immediately head for the fridge for an adult beverage and then plop on the couch to watch the news or a sporting event, is that the best habit to maintain? Not that drinking a beer and watching a game is bad, but is there a more empowering activity we could do with that time? Perhaps use that time to build relationships, work out the body, or something that would move you closer to a bigger goal.
We are all subject to the power of habit. You may have heard it said: “Sow a thought, reap an action – Sow an action, reap a habit – Sow a habit, reap a character – Sow a character, reap a destiny. It all begins with a thought, but aren’t many thoughts habitual? Really, changing our habits is the key to transforming our life. So how do we effectively influence our habits?
It helps to understand a bit of the neurological background behind our habits. Our brain creates neural pathways for certain behaviors and actions. An ingrained habit has a very large neural pathway, much like a super freeway. Along the freeway are many associative exits that lead back to the habitual freeway. Once we get off the habitual freeway, we are easily triggered to return by the many sign posts alerting to the freeway’s presence. In order to get rid of a habit that no longer serves us, we need to create a new pathway and begin to enlarge the pathway. We also need to create more associative connections leading us to the desired behavior.
The old habits and their pathways are still available, so we need to create a barrier or friction to reaching the habitual freeway. If we want to break the habit of reaching for a beer upon arriving home, perhaps move the beer out of the fridge so it isn’t so available. On the other hand, we need to create more openings and less friction toward new habits. For example, if we want to begin exercising right after work, lay out your exercise clothing on the bed the morning prior. It also helps to gain leverage with ourselves, so putting up a photo of yourself when you looked your best, may be an incentive to lose a few pounds.
We must not trivialize the power of habits, even small habits. The compounding effect can create huge results over time. Consider the power of the following habits over time:
- Daily exercise – a strong, healthy body, radiating with energy.
- Reading for an hour daily – a mind that is more resourceful and creative.
- Saving 10% of our income – financial security and even wealth.
- Regularly spending time with friends and loved ones – deep relationships and a full life.
Here is a challenge for this year; list 3 habits you want to delete from your life, then develop your plan to create barriers and friction toward it. More important, note your WHY for eliminating that habit. Next, list 3 new habits you want to create and develop a plan to reduce friction and create attraction toward it. Again, note your WHY for creating the new habit. If you choose to accept this challenge, you will be putting yourself on a path of amazing growth and compelling possibility.