How learning about habits helped me
and how it can help you too.
If you're a regular reader, you'll have some sense that I'm constantly in the progress of trying to better my life in as many ways as possible. For some time now I've been trying to be self-aware in regards to all of my habits; shining the light on bad ones, while filling my life with great ones. Sometimes habit formation is easy, sometimes it's not.
"Why do we do the things we do, when we know what we know?!"
We know something's great for us, we fail to do it consistently. We know something's bad for us, we cave in to it more often than we should. There's a few reasons for this - our desire for immediate gratification, certain triggers that cue repetition, convenience, inconvenience, distractions, accountability, and our environment.
So how does one go about being more conscious of our daily patterns?
Perhaps the most IMPORTANT part of conscious habit formation is CLARITY. Having clarity and defining our values and priorities, allows clarity in our actions and behaviours, which will improve habit formation.
The Four Tendencies.
After reading the bestselling book on habits and habit formation, Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin, some interesting things came to light.
Questioners, Upholders, Obligers, and Rebels, make up a basic framework in understanding how different people respond to different expectations, which plays a large part in habit formation.
(External expectation: work deadlines, family Christmas gathering. Internal expectation: go for a walk outside because I've been sitting in front of a computer screen for two hours straight).
Knowing which category we fall into helps shine light on what strategies we can utilize to help us form better habits.
According to Rubin, I'm a Questioner, and you might be too. I'm motivated to do things and meet expectations as long as I feel they're justified by logic and there's good reason to do something. I don't particularly like following orders or doing things if I think the tasks are unnecessary or lack purpose.
Also, I ask questions. A lot of questions! Essentially, it's in my nature to want to question everything. I'm likely to do an excessive amount of research and collect a lot of information, because I want to be as well-informed as possible to make the best decisions possible. That means I tend to create a lot of my own motivation to stick to habits and follow through with intrinsic expectations, because I've created a strong answer to the question - WHY, based on sound reason and logic, through extensive research.
As another example, you could be an Obliger. If this is you, you'll generally have no problem agreeing if someone else asks you to help complete a task. In fact, you might be more likely to spend more time on that task, while neglecting your own priorities!
External accountability = great. Internal accountability = not so great.
(To find out which of the Four Tendencies you are, take Gretchen Rubin's Quiz.)
Once we better understand the patterns and distinctions within these tendencies, we can be more aware of particular strategies that can either assist us in creating life in Utopia, or sabotage our lives and send us to the fiery pits of hell!
Ok, perhaps it won't be that dramatic, but wisdom could be found in contemplating Greek philosopher, Aristotle:
10 Areas Of Life To Focus On.
There are some key categories that I've come across on in the self-development world, and self-analysis in each of these can help to upgrade our lives and introduce the healthy habits we really want. Sometimes we want to level-up and progress in a certain area, but we don't have the skill set to do it. A little initiative is needed here to seek out some new information and knowledge.
Don't allow bad habits like laziness, negative thoughts, judgemental self-talk, and procrastination stop you from seeing the big picture and progressing forward. Focus on first things first: If everything seems too big, overwhelming, or daunting, break it down into small actionable steps, and only focus on that one step at a time.
- Nutrition: How are we making sure that we're eating and drinking healthfully? How often and when do we cave into immediate gratification and eat that sugary treat we later regret?
- Sleep: The key to a great day, starts the night before. What could we do to improve our sleep practice?
- Physical: Are we implementing the right kind of movement and exercise? How else are we nourishing our body to keep it functioning properly?
- Mental: What are we doing to maintain and enhance cognitive performance? Are we learning new things, acquiring new skills and gaining new perspectives? How self-aware are we of our thoughts and behaviours?
- Emotional: Are there certain triggers that keep bringing up the same emotional patterns? What is our relationship to these emotions; do we control them, or do they control us?
- Social: Could we improve on the quality of our inter-personal relationships? Do we surround ourselves with inspiring people who lift us up, or toxic people that drag us down?
- Spiritual: How do we seek meaning and purpose in life? How connected are we to the present moment, to others, to ourselves, to nature, and the universe around us? What practices do we engage in to connect to the above?
- Financial: Are we saving, spending, earning and investing money wisely?
- Sexual: Do we have a healthy and mature view on sexuality, including towards ourselves and towards others? Do we engage in the healthy sexual practices that we'd like?
- Rest/Relax: Are we keeping everything in balance and giving ourselves enough time to rest, relax and recuperate?
- Clean/Clear/Organise/Declutter: Are we disorganised around our home? Do we have trouble finding where we put things? Could we improve on being organised, clean, and tidy around the home or office? Our outer world reflects our inner world. Are there things taking up space that we could get rid of to declutter, making room (physically and mentally) to focus on the things that really matter?
Okay, so I may have lied. There were actually 11 categories there. I won't charge any extra for adding a bonus one in. Shame on you for not noticing though... Tsk tsk tsk.
Overwhelmed yet? Narrow it down!
Here are FIVE places to start.
Nutrition. Movement. Sleep. Breath. Declutter.
- Implement a good sleep practice.
- Eat and drink a healthy, wholesome diet.
- Exercise and move your body regularly.
- Set aside time for a practice that allows you to cultivate self-awareness of breath.
- Make sure we're keeping our external (and internal!) environments clean and organised.
Start with the basics, keep it simple, break things down into tiny bite sized chunks, take it step by step, and it will give you a solid foundation to eventually branch off and experiment with adding other healthy habits into your life.
Top Strategies That I Use Daily.
“We become what we repeatedly do,” says Sean Covey, son of Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, another book that I highly recommend.
There are a few key tips and strategies that I use every day to make sure I stick to healthy habits and that I achieve my goals and priorities.
- DEFINE AND CLARIFY: Define values and priorities, what we actually want to achieve, and the actions needed to complete those tasks.
- MONITOR: What gets measured, gets managed. Observe our actions, behaviours and thoughts throughout the day. Track and record tasks to monitor progress, and where we can improve.
- SCHEDULE: A to-do list is great, but sometimes it's not enough. Scheduling tasks in to a calendar or into specific time slots makes it easier to focus on specific activities and get stuff done without distractions.
- STACKING: Piggy-back a few activities/habits one after another to come up with a routine.
- REMINDERS/CUES: Use certain activities to remind or cue you to do something else.
- PAIRING: Pair two or more activities together to get more done. Efficient, and you'll feel a greater sense of accomplishment for ticking off 2+ things at once.
You might be thinking, well, duh, that all seems pretty simple. Well, it kinda is. The trick is to actually implement these little strategies into daily life!
To get a little more specific, I'll show you a few habits I have and how I maintain them...
Every morning I get out of bed do the following activities one after another. A quick Google search will give further insight into the benefits of each.
- Use a tongue scraper to get any accumulated gunk off my tongue from the night before.
- Box breathing to cultivate self-awareness of breath and prepare for the following activities.
- Access concentration to develop focus and one-pointedness of mind.
- Meditation to cultivate mindfulness, sanctuary, stillness and peace within myself.
- Movement practice to wake up my body.
- And finally, the ever-refreshing cold shower.
I STACK these morning habits to create a routine. I MONITOR my box breathing, access concentration, and meditation via apps on my phone to record progress, and this routine is appropriately SCHEDULED in the night before.
Win the morning, win the day.
I use the CUE of making my vegetable/herbal smoothie to take my daily supplements, and I use alarms on my phone to remind me to check email at 12pm and 4pm (I limit the times I check email and social media so I can be more productive with my time.)
I use the strategy of PAIRING, when I do some myofascial release on a foam roller and trigger point ball (to stay supple and release tension in various parts of my body), and either watch self-development-esque videos or listen to a podcast.
Or after excessive sitting, I'll tick off going for a walk, time in nature, and listening to a podcast, all in the one paired habit.
Every night before bed, I DEFINE and CLARIFY what my most important tasks and priorities are for the following day, and SCHEDULE them in.
The cool thing about habits?
We use decision making to choose the healthy habits we want, then use will-power and self-control to start that new habit, and with the right strategies in place, we allow the habit to take over and assume autopilot, decreasing the need for decision making and decision fatigue.
Ultimately, this allows us more freedom to maximise our creative genius, and more time & energy to focus on the bigger projects. Tim Ferriss (Four Hour Workweek, Tools of Titans) put it pretty succinctly:
What healthy habits do you plan to kick-start? Clarify your values and what you want to do, monitor and observe yourself and your actions, make sure to schedule them in, and use simple strategies to implement them into your life. Easy, right?
Check out these books on habits and habit formation if you want to become a habit guru.
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