224. Habits; can’t live without them.

To my readers: On Wednesday, May 10, 2017 my two weekly blogs will be moving to strategicpathways.net/blog/ and will no longer be available through the present email subscriptions. Please visit strategicpathways.net/blog/ and subscribe in order to keep receiving my blogs.

Thank you

Last week I invited you to begin paying attention to and counting your habits.

I pointed out that many of you will be surprised at the tally and, indeed, you were.

Over the last week, I heard from many who were anxious to chat about how this exercise has opened their eyes to the degree to which their lives are governed every day by habits, many of which they were completely unaware of.

My experience has taught me this is true for us all. So deeply ingrained and entrenched are many of our habits, and so automatically and unconsciously do we deploy them, that we are oblivious to their presence and are equally unaware of the impact they have on our lives.

I hinted last week that many would not be surprised to discover and become aware of more than 50 habits. The “winner” was Christine who indicated she had listed more than 200 and was still discovering more.

Dictionary.com defines a habit as an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary:

By this definition, I’m sure Christine is not alone in reaching a count of over 200 and I expect over the coming weeks to hear from more people reporting that they too have listed habits totaling in the hundreds.

Someone else asked why I felt it necessary to encourage readers to tally their habits. It certainly isn’t necessary, however as we go through this exercise and see the number growing larger and larger, it helps us realize how habit-bound we are.

The question at hand is not how many habits we have, but rather how much value, or distress they bring into our lives.

We acquire habits in two different ways: by design or by default. It is safe to state that the majority are by default. They chose us.

There is great value in recognizing and listing our habits, as a quick glance through the list will tell us which we need to keep and which we should replace.

A long-held guiding principle tells us we can’t fix what we don’t acknowledge. Which explains why acknowledging those habits that are moving us away from where we want to be is the first step so we can take the necessary steps to design the habits we want to replace them with.

If you haven’t yet begun this exercise, begin right away. You will find this to be one of the most interesting and revealing exercises in self-discovery you have ever undertaken. You will very quickly come to realize why long-term, beneficial, sustainable change will only take place can only happen when we design and adopt powerful, empowering new habits to replace the ones that have caused the very results we wish to change.

Let me repeat, change doesn’t come about by introducing new behaviours, it comes about by creating the habits that sustain those behaviours in the long term.

As a Habits Coach, I have witnessed the truthfulness of this statement far too often to doubt it.

So go ahead, list ‘em, count’ em and then call me and let’s talk about ‘em.

I can’t wait to hear from you.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

223. Count ‘em. You’ll be surprised.

To my readers: On Wednesday, May 10, 2017 my two weekly blogs will be moving to strategicpathways.net/blog/ and will no longer be available through the present email subscriptions. Please visit strategicpathways.net/blog/ and subscribe in order to keep receiving my blogs.

Thank you

We have spent the past few weeks discussing where habits come from and how they are formed.

Today I invite you to take stock of yourself and begin the process of identifying and recording your own habits.

There are, of course, the obvious ones – brushing our teeth – and the somewhat less obvious ones – our eating habits. Do you hold the knife in the left hand for right one, do you hold this fork in the stab, scoop or shovel position?

Which hand do you use to hold a cup, glass or bottle when taking a drink?
What about how you dress yourself? Which leg goes in the pants first which arm goes first into the sleeve?

Do you use your left or right hand to button up your shirt?

How do you unlock your car? Do you always hold the keys or remote in the left or right hand? Do you put your seatbelt on before or after you start the engine?
Do you wear a watch? Is it on your left or right wrist?

Do you always sit in the same place at the dinner table? Perhaps, the same chair or couch in your living room or den?

What time did you go to bed last night? Was it the same time as the night before and the one before that?

Now that I have your attention, let’s examine some of the more subtle, yet more revealing habits.

What do you do when you get angry? Huh? What’s that got to do with habits?
Everything! That feeling of anger has nothing to do with the person who cuts you off in traffic. Nor has it anything to do with your idiot co-worker who gets on your nerves just because…

And you can’t even point a finger of blame at the clerk in the store who was rude to you or your inconsiderate neighbor who never picks up his dog’s poop from your lawn.

Of course, we have trained ourselves to believe that these events are the cause of our anger, yet nothing could be further from the truth.

In order to feel anger, we must do certain things in our minds and in our bodies and we have taught ourselves, through repetition, how to do these things.
So, that anger is really the result of yet another of our many, many habits. As is stress, frustration, joy and delight.

These are some of our default habits that we instantly engage when certain triggers present themselves.

Keep building a list and you will surprise yourself at how many you have acquired over the course of your life.

Almost all results in the lives come from those things we do repeatedly. Many of them bring great value, while others can drive us to distraction.

When we have mastered our habits, we have mastered our lives. Please keep building up a tally and when you think you’ve captured them all, send an email to me at tellmemore@strategicpathways.net with your final score.

I’ll bet you’ll be surprised to discover that number is more than 50.

We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge. To that end, recognizing our habits is the first step in identifying and acknowledging those behaviours that are taking away from our enjoyment of life. Once we have them identified them, we can begin the process of replacing those that no longer serve us with energizing and uplifting ones.

I know this is true because I’ve gone through this exercise hundreds of times with clients and the results never cease to amaze me.

If we are our habits, does it not make perfect sense to learn all there is to know about adopting the very best ones for ourselves.

And I can help.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

222. Where do habits come from?

Habits! We all have them.

So where do they come from? How do we get them?

Well, the many habits we have all acquired over the years have found us through one of two pathways. We have either acquired them by default or by deliberate intention – design.

When you ask a person to tell you about someone they know their description of that person – he’s very quiet and even-tempered, she’s very engaging and funny – they describe how that person conduct themselves most of the time in their presence.

In other words, they are describing that person’s default.

Dictionary.com defines the computer use of default as a “value that a program or operating system assumes, or a course of action that a program or operating system will take, when the user or programmer specifies no overriding value or action.”

And that definition describes precisely how various habits have come to us by way of default.

Many habits were formed very early in childhood and we have continued their use without necessarily viewing them as being habits.

For example, when we first learned to dress ourselves we began putting one arm, left or right, in the sleeve each time we put on a shirt, and one leg, left or right, each time we put on pants. Whichever arm or leg we used as we were learning, is almost certainly the same arm and leg we use today.

Kinda scary, wouldn’t you say, when you think about how many other habits you acquired in your childhood that may still be haunting you today.

This an example of a default habit; while we are perfectly capable of switching arms and legs when dressing, we seldom do because the user – us – does not specify an overriding value or action – we don’t choose another way.

Almost certainly, the habits we would like to change – the ones that bring about results we do not cherish – almost always come about by default, not by deliberate action taken on our part.

Each time we set out to bring about change we are, in essence, declaring our intention to modify an existing habit.

And to do so we need to learn and follow the precise formula required for the new habit to become permanent and sustainable.

Here’s why: we cannot get rid of a habit. We can only replace one habit with another. The old axiom that old habits die hard is simply not true. Old habits don’t die, they simply fade into the recesses of our mind and lie dormant, patiently waiting for an opportunity to pounce and return to reclaim what they believe to be their rightful place.

Many books have been written and much has been spoken of the power of intention. It is said by some that intention is the driving force behind change.

If change is what we want, and it is important to us, then we need to create habits of intention.

Most often change requires exchanging a habit produced by default with one designed with deliberate intent and in my day job as a Habits Coach I lead my clients to do just that.

And when we learn how to do this properly, we eliminate the risk of reverting back to what we did before – our old default habits.

While going backwards is obviously not a conscious choice we would make for ourselves, it may in fact have become a default habit.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

221. Gandhi had it right.

A widely distributed and long-held belief tells us that it takes 21 days to form a habit. This premise has been circulating since the late 1950s and is attributed to Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a renowned plastic surgeon who noticed that, on average, it took his patients around 21 days to get used to their new look.

Over time, this belief took on a life of its own to the point that even to this day it is widely quoted as a fact.

It is a myth.

Much research has been done into trying to determine how long it takes to form a habit and the most common conclusion is that it takes as long as it takes.

And we – creatures of habit that we are – are all riddled with many of them.

As a Habits Coach, I am frequently asked how we go about bringing new habits into our everyday lives.

 To best answer that question, I think it is helpful to spend a few moments discussing efforts to change habits that don’t work.

For most of us, attempting to develop a new habit involves intense focus on a change in behaviour. We put our time and energy into concentrating and applying the new behaviour – following the latest fad diet – and are thrilled to see some type of immediate results.

And yet, as experience has taught us, the results are not only fleeting, but in a short period of time we are back doing exactly what we have always done.

This is because our focus was entirely placed on a new behaviour which is not where acquiring new habits begins.

There is a very precise formula we must follow if we wish to successfully adopt and sustain new habits as part of our permanent behaviour. This formula is not new. In fact, it was expressed succinctly many years ago when Gandhi said:

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

We choose everything we believe to be true – particularly of ourselves.  This is both good and bad news. It is good news because it can be easily accomplished, but bad news because until we change those beliefs that lie at the very base of who and what we believe ourselves to be, not only will we never succeed in adopting new and sustainable habits, but we will always revert to those very ones we long to change.

And over time, through the repeated experience of not sustaining the new behaviours we want, we run the risk of quitting trying.

And it is interesting how this happens. Repeated unsuccessful attempts at developing a new habit, e.g. becoming a non-smoker, cause us to start thinking will never be able to quit.

Soon this becomes a well-entrenched opinion that we now believe to be a fact. This new belief causes us to take action – quit quitting – and by repeating this process several times, we have now formed the long-term and sustainable habit of never trying again to quit smoking.

And as much as we hate this habit, we hate even more the notion of trying to change it.   Instead, we try and find comfort in our own discomfort and pretend that we are okay with the status quo.

When we follow the formula for habit change we can and will both develop and retain the habits we want that will richly enhance our quality of life. When we deviate from the formula we expose ourselves to the risk of repeated disappointment which, sadly, can too easily become a habit.

I know the formula works as I’ve seen miracles occur with so many of my clients. As I’ve said before, the process is simple, but not easy. 

And as we know, if it was easy to do, everyone would be doing it!

Be sure to drop by next week when we explore creating habits by design or default. 

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.