Motivation is what gets you started, habits are what keep you going. – Jim Rohn
Motivation. We’ve all had that sudden spike to get up and take action at one point or another in our lives. For most of us, that surge of motivation doesn’t last more than a few days or weeks if we’re lucky.
Why is that? Well, as the quote above suggests, it’s a lack of habit. The motivation to create change is there, but the follow through is not. Motivation alone is not enough to keep you going when the road gets tough or when the results take longer than you expected. Habits, on the other hand make taking consistent action towards your goals not only possible, but almost easy.
Easy in the sense that when you’ve got habits in place, you don’t even have to think about what you’re doing.
Why does your brain like habits?
Your brain likes habits because the brain is all about efficiency and effectiveness. Habits allow your brain to turn off, and therefore, burn less calories because it doesn’t have to think about what to do next.
The brain always looks for ways to make things easier and more efficient. If you’ve ever had a day where you feel mentally drained, it is because your brain had to work overtime to think about what you were doing. As a result your brain was tapped in the energy department. The brain doesn’t like that.
Our brain likes simplicity. It likes routines. Think about the last time you drove home, you probably didn’t have to think much about the route you were going to take. In fact, you may have missed a majority of the drive home because you were essentially on auto-pilot. This is the power of habit at work.
The brain also likes habits, because they help you avoid decision fatigue. You are forced to make hundreds if not thousands of decisions each day-from large decisions to micro decisions. Some you may not even be aware of.
Most women meet that quota trying to get dressed in the morning. And if not then, they certainly do when they spend time and energy agonizing over what to eat. Especially if you’re steeped in diet culture or the diet mindset.
Your brain will look for every opportunity to create habits as a shortcut. This is regardless of if the routine/ habit you’ve developed is ultimately helpful or not. Hence the existence of your bad habits..
Do all of your habits contribute to your lifestyle love?
Not all habits are created equal as you’re probably aware. Think for a second about all of your habits. There is a good chance you have come up with more negative habits than good ones. That’s normal.
Bad, good, better, and best habits exist. Some serve you and the lifestyle you’re looking to live. Some don’t.
The problem lies in the habits we keep and the ones we have a hard time sticking to. If you’re wanting to create change and discover more lifestyle love in your life, then figuring out how to arrange the habits in your life is so crucial.
Beyond knowing how to arrange your habits, you need to get clear on which habits are serving you and your best self, and which ones are consistently sabotaging your hard work.
To get clear on which habits need an upgrade and which ones don’t try this exercise:
-Get out a piece of paper and list out the habits you’re aware of.
* You may have to think about your daily routine to see if you can notice some of the sneakier habits you’ve developed. For example, do you tend to plop down in front of the couch with a bag of chips after a long day of work and mindlessly binge Netflix until the chips are gone?
– Next, you’ll want to decide which habits are helping you and which ones aren’t. Rank them either using a number system or with simple terms as bad, good, better, best.
-Lastly, decide which habits you believe will help you succeed that you don’t have in place.
A common mistake many women make is they focus on, and beat themselves up over their bad habits. Instead of focusing on changing your bad habits, think about which habits you want to create.
You don’t have to change every bad habit at once. In fact, if you try, it’s a sure fire way to make sure you fail. Just think about New Year’s resolutions. People try to change everything about their lives, and then wonder why none of it stuck.
The importance of keystone habits
Instead of overwhelming yourself trying to change all your bad habits at once, start with one, and then go from there. Look back at the list you created, pick the one habit you know would have the most powerful impact on your life if you changed it. If you’re trying to improve your health, that one habit for you might be not using food for emotional comfort or getting in the habit of moving your body in some way each day.
Oftentimes when we create certain habits other ones seem to emerge out of nowhere. Sometimes all it takes is tipping over the first couple of dominos to create a cascading effect. When this happens, you know you’ve found a keystone habit. The more keystone habits you create, the quicker the results come in all other areas of your life too.
The problem is, you don’t always know which will be the dominos you have to start with. That is why it’s important for you to start with a habit you’re genuinely excited to create or are excited to see disappear as it’s not contributing to your overall lifestyle, and is definitely not creating a sense of lifestyle love in your life.
The next mistake people often make is not giving themselves enough time to practice creating the new habit. When they don’t see results in a few days or a couple of weeks, they lose steam, and go back to the behavior that wasn’t serving them at all. Be on the lookout for the quick fix mentality. Creating a sense of accountability for yourself is a smart move.
Look at creating new habits like a practice instead of a prescription. There will be days when no matter how hard you try, you’ll mess up. Dust yourself off and try again. Depending on how engrained the old habit is, it could take months to get the new habit to click for you.
Self-compassion, self-love, and grace will be huge in keeping you inspired to try again. Beating yourself up when you mess up, won’t.
Hacking the habit loop
Understanding the different parts of the habit and what you have to practice changing is helpful. This way you’re not wasting your time or energy, and can focus on what you have in your control.
Your habits have three parts. There is the cue, the routine, and the reward. The only thing you have to work on changing is the routine.
As humans, we are hardwired for pleasure. Our brains want to avoid pain because it sees pain as a threat to our survival. There was a point in time, when this was helpful, and at times still can be ie if you’re getting chased by a bear.
However, our brains in many ways are still pretty primal. Meaning the brain doesn’t do the best job at differentiating between an actual threat and a perceived threat. Think actual danger (chased by a bear) versus theoretical danger (being rejected).
Generally speaking, if something feels good or provides pleasure the brain perceives it as being good for us. While on the other end of the spectrum, if it causes pain (even if it’s emotional or mental) our brain wants to get us back to feeling good, at any cost. This means even if the habit is harmful, but provides an immediate sense of pleasure, your brain will seek that out.
Basically the brain is always looking for the reward part of the habit loop.
Let’s say you’ve got the habit of stress eating. Anytime you’re stressed, you eat. Regardless of if you’re hungry or not.
The cue might be you’ve just gotten out of a stressful client meeting at work or had a fight with your best friend. You feel anxious, on edge, upset, and end up migrating to the nearest cupboard or secret stash of your ‘feel good food’.
Looking at the scenario above the habit goes like this:
- Cue: stressful meeting or fight with best friend, boyfriend, mom, etc.
- Routine: find nearest source of ‘feel good food’
- Reward: feelings of anxiety, edginess, anger temporarily subside.
You can’t change the circumstance, and you can’t change what you’re brain is seeking (pain relief). What you can control and change is the action you take after the cue.
In the scenario above it’s easy to see that the ‘feel good food’ will only provide temporary relief. The pain will still be there after you’ve eaten your feel good food. That routine may even present other problems that you’re left to deal with down the road.
Now that you know on a basic level how habits work, you can take the habits you want to change from your list above, and break them down into the three parts that make up the habit loop. Decide what routine you want to swap in place of the current one. Then get to work practicing the new routine when the cue hits.
Focus on one or two habits to change at a time. Keep it simple, make it fun.
The power of habits will make or break you. It’s that simple. You are the sum of every habit you’ve ever had, every thought you’ve ever believed, and every belief you’ve ever held. If you don’t like what you see when you look at your life, it’s time to give some of your habits an upgrade, it’s time to give your mindset a makeover.
Hacking your habits is the first step.
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