This morning I woke up and made myself a cup of green tea with lemon. I then got ready for work in my usual routine – washed my face, brushed my hair, got dressed and I was out the door. I took my usual route to work – you know, the one where you can zone out and by the time you park your car, you don’t even remember driving to work. When I walked in, made a loop around the office and greeted everyone before I popped my lunch in the fridge, poured myself a glass of water, booted up my computer and checked my email.
While my morning routine may not be the same as yours, I’m sure there are things you do every morning that don’t even think about it. These habits are ingrained into your everyday life. For example, you don’t wake up and think – “I should go brush my teeth.” You just do it, without a conscious thought propelling you toward your bathroom sink.
New Year, New Habits
A habit is an action you do frequently and automatically in response to your environment. It is a settled tendency that is hard to give up. As humans, we have plenty of good habits, and some not so good habits.
As we welcome in 2019, many of us made resolutions. Yours may be to get healthy and fit, to read more, to be more mindful, to enhance your vocabulary, to do one nice deed a day, or perhaps something else. All these resolutions will require you to evaluate your current habits, and decide which you want to keep, which you want to end, and which new ones you’d like to adopt.
The Power of Habits
Habits are a very powerful force in our lives. Take smoking as an example. Nicotine is an addictive chemical that keeps you smoking. Within seconds of taking a puff, neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, are released into the brain. Dopamine improves your mood and releases the feeling of pleasure in your brain. When something makes you feel good, it’s easy to get hooked, even if you logically know that smoking is bad for you.
However, it may surprise you to know that nicotine dependence relies on a very important factor – habits. Physical nicotine withdrawal symptoms last about two weeks. But smokers have a hard time kicking this habit and return to smoking long after the physical dependence has subsided. That is because their habit is caused by more than physical dependence, it’s caused by a mental dependence. They get used to having a cigarette with their morning coffee, after lunch, while on the phone or while drinking alcohol. The mental addiction is a habit – and that is much harder to break than physical dependence on nicotine.
How Habits Form
Take food for example. We see a cookie and it looks good. Our brain is focused on the calories and survival that food provides. So, we eat the food, it tastes good and we feel good. Our brain then teaches us that if we see food, we should eat the food and then we will feel good. This basic pattern can also be broken down into trigger (see food), behavior (eat food), and reward (feel good).
Let’s take this one step further – we remember that food makes us feel good so next time we’re sad, or stressed, our brain suggests that we eat food, so we feel better. We quickly learn that if we eat something like cookies when we’re feeling bad, our mood can quickly improve. Now the trigger has changed from “see food” to “feel bad” and the pattern becomes feel bad, eat food, feel good. And voila – we just developed the bad habit of emotional eating.
How to Break a Bad Habit, and Develop Good Habits
So how will you stick with your New Year’s resolution and adopt new positive habits, while breaking old bad habits?
Step one is understanding what your habits are and why you have them. It’s really understanding how these habits came into your life and what you’re doing to keep them or to stop them.
You need a plan to help you reach your goals. Give yourself structure and a timeline. Decide how you will reward yourself for hitting milestones and how you will deal with slip-ups. If emotional eating is your bad habit, perhaps you want to decide, in advance, what you can do next time you feel bad, that doesn’t involve cookies.
Why do we have such a hard time breaking a promise to someone else, but we break promises to ourselves all the time? If you tell a client or friend that you will meet them for coffee, you wouldn’t imagine standing them up and breaking that promise. But when you tell yourself you won’t eat a cookie next time you’re stressed out, it’s a very easy promise to break.
Set iPhone reminders, block time off in your calendar and force yourself to be disciplined. To make something a habit, you must get used to doing it on a regular basis. It cannot be random or sporadic. Schedule the gym into your calendar and treat it like every other appointment that you can’t miss.
Eating one healthy meal or going to the gym one time will not suddenly make you more fit. Give yourself time and understand that you are only human. You are bound to slip-up and the road may not be smooth. It’s okay! Habits take time and patience.
If you’re interested in learning more about habits and if you’d like to learn how to apply them to your business, come to our seminar, Drivers of Success: How Good Business Habits Improve Profitability on January 24th, with the Maryland Construction Network!
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