What is your daily routine like? Do you even have to think about it much? For the majority of us it follows some pattern. Our alarm goes off, we hit snooze once (or many times) until we finally get out of bed. And then, we either start making breakfast or get in the shower. Maybe we brush our teeth and pull out our clothes for the day.
We each have a process that we follow in a general order. We may not be sticklers to exact specifics. If we end up brushing our teeth before instead of after we shower, it probably doesn’t throw off our day. But, we have a process. And we probably think very little about our process because these are the habits and patterns we’ve created.
A friend of mine commented on Happy People Just Don’t Shoot Their Husbands about how she is motivated to start jogging with her oldest son. And that got me thinking about how hard it is for us adults to either break “bad” old habits, or start new ones. Habits in many cases become all but involuntary. It is something we repeatedly do and in repeating it, it becomes automatic and requires little to no conscious thought. Have you ever driven to your destination without remembering how you got there? Have you ever set a goal and determined you just lack the will power to achieve it? Have you ever wondered why it is just so damn difficult for someone you care about to just kick that dangerous habit?
When we are creating habits, we are forming connections between actions and responses. In many cases, we’re also triggering a reward sensation by engaging in an activity. This is why some of those habits that just seem like common sense to give up are so difficult. For instance overeating or compulsive use of social media. We get a release of dopamine when we do something we feel is pleasurable – and then we want to do it again, and again.
Remember how we talked about sugar being an addiction? This is why it’s just as hard to kick as any drug.
Did you know that it is generally believed that most of our habits are formed by the age of 9? Don’t freak out. That doesn’t mean that those of a more mature age than 9 are screwed. Even if it feels like it sometimes. It does mean that we might have a more difficult road to hoe to get to our goals though.
Many of our habits
are formed by the age of 9
A lot of what we believe and understand comes from what we see and hear as a child. How our family deals with finances, how we talk about ourselves, what we think about religion and politics. This doesn’t mean that we all just believe and act exactly as our parents do. But it does mean that a lot of our habits and patterns come directly from what we do and are taught as a child. Both directly and indirectly.
I remember my first semester in college and realizing some of my fellow 18 year olds were figuring out how to do their laundry for the first time. This baffled me. Laundry has always been one of the chores the kids in my house had to do. We didn’t have a strict chores list. But. Laundry, pet duties and dishes were all on the list from a young age. Of course there were plenty more items on the list. But in my 18 year old world view something like laundry is learned as soon as you’re tall enough to pour the detergent in and you can sort darks from lights without turning someones whites to pinks.
Have you ever stopped to think about your patterns and where they came from? What did your parents routinely have you do as a child? Do you do things now because, or possibly in spite, of that? I still often find myself singing the ABC’s when I brush my teeth. That’s how I learned to time myself and not get sent back to brush again.
If you have the joy of being around kids. Either your own, or family and friends. Think about the patterns you are showing them and engaging in with them. Positive self talk, healthy eating, regular exercise, reading and learning self control. These are all things you can help instill in them. They are also things you can engage in with them. Having them help in the kitchen when you’re cooking or shopping at the grocery store. Set up family activities that teach them to be active. My brother and I used to have push up and sit up competitions. Or we’d have to race each other at the park and do jumping jacks. I’m sure at the time my parents were thinking more about exhausting us, but I think back on those experiences laugh about how fun and simple those experiences were.
Now. Regardless of whether you’re around kids or not. Take a moment to think about your habits and your struggles. And then take a moment to forgive yourself. Any time you’ve failed. Any time you’ve thought about starting a new habit or breaking an old one and you just decided not to even try. Any time you’ve thought to yourself you’re just not good enough. You just don’t have the will power. You’re just not strong enough. Apologize to yourself. None of this is true.
Habits are automatic. They are repeated actions that become all but involuntary. In many cases, they involve chemicals in our brains being triggered and making us feel good. Even if for just a moment. And they are hard to break. I’m not giving you an excuse not to try again. But I am telling you to forgive yourself for failing. And to remember to forgive yourself again when you fail in the future. That’s part of life. We fail sometimes. And then we learn from it and we try again.
If you have something you want to quit, find a better, healthier habit to replace it with. And then remember that creating a new habit, as motivated as you are, will take time. You’ve probably read that a new habit takes 21 days to create. And that’s largely true. But it can take up to a year to cement some habits. It doesn’t start as automatic or involuntary.
You have to set yourself up to succeed. So start simple and set realistic goals. You can’t go from couch potato to marathon runner overnight. But you can start by walking every night after dinner. And you can set a (healthy) reward and a new goal each time you grow.
And, just like a child learns patterns, teach yourself a new pattern. Set up a trigger to remind yourself of what you want to do. If you want to read more for instance, then set a time everyday that you will read. If it’s right after breakfast, then finishing breakfast becomes your cue. By having a cue and engaging in the activity at the same time everyday, you give yourself a better chance of sticking to it.
Even when logic and science and our friends and family can tell us how great starting a new habit will be for us. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy or fast. We can have the facts in front of us. But we still have to create new connections in our brains and in our daily patterns. Don’t forget to give yourself some slack. Use a friend to make it more enjoyable, or just to keep you accountable. Adjust your goals as you grow. Remind yourself of why you’re doing it. And forgive yourself for the days you fail.
What are your current goals that you’re working toward? Or, what’s a dream goal you’ve had and just haven’t figured out how to reach yet? Why not start now?
Yours in health and wellness,