We hear a lot about habits. I'm sure you've heard at least once before that we're "creatures of habit". Habits are the actions that we perform so often that your brain waits for a trigger to set it off without you actually having to think about doing it. And if you ask me, habits are one of the most helpful things we have. Once something becomes a habit, the actions move to another part of our brain, which clears up more space for thinking in the current moment. Imagine every time you pulled into your driveway at the end of the day you had to consciously think about putting your car in park, and taking off your seat belt, it’s something I do everyday, but it’s not something I ever remember doing, it just kinda happens.
Beyond the basic habits that don’t seem like more than minor conveniences in our day to day lives (like walking up two stairs at a time, or tapping your pockets to make sure you have your phone and wallet before you leave the house), there are bigger lifestyle based habits, some good and some bad. The bad habits we hear about all the time, “I just crave a cigarette when I drink” being one I used to hear all the time in college. Everyone tells you to get rid of bad habits, but I don’t always hear advice about starting good habits. Where should we start, what can we do to get the ball rolling for some new habits in our lives?
The science says that on average it takes two months to form a new habit. That’s not a long time in most standards, but it definitely feels long for denying a craving or stopping yourself from something that is almost literally an automatic action.
One method I like to use to help replace a habit is to try my best to assess what that habit actually is, and try to consciously acknowledge when I try to utilize it so that I get the chance to make the decision myself whether or not I do it. The best example I could think of is when I first was learning about nutrition, and I realized I was a big snacker. I came to see that a huge contributor to that was me never saying no when someone offered me food. So I decided that for some time I would try to say no to anyone who offered me food. And, for a while it was tough, sometimes I would still say yes and take it, and then I’d have to sit there and struggle not to eat it. But after months and months of that effort, my default answer became “no thank you” and instead I now feel I have full control when someone offers me food.
One thing to remember is that setting up a roadmap for success is only half the battle. You still need to actively exercise your willpower in following that roadmap, which can be tiring, but so rewarding once you start doing the things you want to do without even having to think about it!