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.

220. Attitude is a habit.

 

Question!

If at birth you were given an amazing ability that would help guide you to make better decisions, build better relationships and feel an enviable sense of peace would you

a)      Be grateful?

b)      Use it every day?

You were born with that gift and how you have chosen to use that gift is reflected back to you each day in the quality of your life.

That gift is called the Power of Choice and we use it every moment of every day to shape our perspective and select our attitude.

Dictionary.com defines attitude as a noun meaning:

1. manner, disposition, feeling, position, etc., with regard to a person or thing; tendency or orientation, especially of the mind:

a negative attitude; group attitudes.

2. position or posture of the body appropriate to or expressive of an action, emotion, etc.:

a threatening attitude; a relaxed attitude.

The funny thing about attitude is that it is learned and often repeated which means the attitude we present to the world each day is of our choosing. It is a habit we have formed and which we hold on to.

We’ve all met people who are perennially in a bad mood, or those who see and find fault with everything. We know those who see the glass as half empty and those who see it without any water in it.

And we know those whose smiles never leave their faces, who see the best in everything and everyone, who view adversity as a challenge to be overcome and hardship as merely an obstacle on the pathway to success.

And they all have one thing in common. They have become the way they are through constant practice. They have repeated these behaviours so often, and for so long that they have become their default.

In other words, it is habituated in them to conduct themselves this way. Their view of the world – their perspective – is such that it drives them to be the way they present themselves to us.

If what we describe as personality, or attitude, is simply learned behaviour that has been repeated so often as to have become an unconscious habit, then surely we can look deeply inside ourselves and, if we do not approve of what we see, we can create new ways of looking at the world which would then lead to new ways of conducting ourselves in it.

Of course, we can.

We were not born to be who we have become. We have taught ourselves to be who we are. An introvert was not born with body parts any different than an extrovert. The introvert has simply taken a belief he/she has of himself/herself and by consistently practising the behaviours of introversion have formed lasting habits to keep themselves there.

As we have discussed, we are, for the most part, the product of the habits we have acquired over the course of our lifetime.

That wonderful gift we were all born with – Power of Choice – allowed us to choose and hold on to every belief we have of ourselves. Those beliefs, and views of the world, drove us to behave in a certain way and by constantly behaving that same way we developed the habits that today are responsible for the vast majority of the results we produce in our lives.

I take great pride in my role as a Habits Coach for this enables me to truly guide my clients into the habits that bring them the lives they’ve long dreamed of.

And seeing the excitement in people exhibiting, and enjoying the rewards of, new habits is gratifying beyond words.

It’s not easy to acquire a new habit, but it is simple.

And simple but not easy, easily beats difficult and not likely.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

219. Habits, habits everywhere.

 

What is a habit?

For the past three weeks we have deviated from our custom of discussing a particular habit for three weeks and then moving on to a new one.

Instead, we have used of this space to reflect on the ever-present influence habits play in our everyday lives.

If we define a habit as a series of behaviours we exhibit each time we are presented with a certain – real or imagined – stimulus, then we can safely assume we each hold dozens of habits as our very own.

If it is true that all behaviour is learned then it follows that habits too are learned which means we have within ourselves the ability to transform debilitating habits into powerful, pleasure-inducing ones.

Let’s take a few moments and explore behaviours common to many of us.

The word stress is one that is commonly bandied about. We use the word to describe how we feel when confronted with certain situations that life has dealt us.

For example, if we find ourselves feeling stressed over a looming deadline, and previous deadlines have involved similar feelings within us, we can agree that we have taught ourselves to feel this way and, by virtue of having done so repeatedly in the past, we have created the habit of feeling stressed when facing pending deadlines.

What do you do when driving if another driver that cuts you off in traffic by swerving in front of you?

Do you become angry, furious, ballistic? Do you honk your horn in anger and proudly gesture towards that vehicle with the same finger that has two fingers to the left of it and two to the right of it?

If this is you, where and how did you learn to do this. Did you pick this up by modelling one, or both of your parents? Perhaps a friend introduced you to this response?

Regardless of the origin of your behaviour, if this is your pattern, and it recurs each time another vehicle cuts in front of you, you have habituated yourself to this behaviour.

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, it is a habit.”

And by repeatedly responding the same way to the stimulus you have proven him right.

We have all imbued ourselves with dozens of these types of habits and I invite you, over the next little while to pay close attention to yourself and to list your habits as you become aware of them.

I recently attended my seventh meeting with the senior management group of one of my client companies. And just as on the previous six occasions, each person was seated precisely on the same chair at the table.

Coincidence? No, habit.

From the obvious ones – brushing our teeth – to the less obvious ones – putting the same arm first into a sleeve each time we put on a shirt – to the ones that are most often take place completely outside of our conscious awareness, our lives are driven by the many habits we have developed.

As a Habits Coach, I share this with each of my clients as it is important to acknowledge that whenever we wish to bring positive and sustainable change into our lives, we must first recognize that the behaviours we wish to change are really habits we need to replace.

And when you know how to change habits, life just gets better and better.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

218. Wear your watch on your other wrist.

 

I was recently asked about the extent to which habits play a central role in every facet of our lives.

And I began thinking about how much we are governed by the unthinking, autonomic, almost robotlike behaviours that we repeat throughout each day.

We may call these actions a routine, or a pattern or a process but in the end our every day is filled with hundreds upon hundreds of things we do that are easily classified as habits.

Walk yourself through a typical day.

You wake up and what is the first thing you do? Almost certainly it is the same first thing you did yesterday and the day before and will most likely do tomorrow.

Perhaps you take a shower? Whatever routine you follow in he shower is the same as always.

Then you get dressed. Wearing a shirt? Which arm goes in the sleeve first? Pants? Which leg first?

Socks? Shoes? I think you get the drift.

Which wrist do you wear your watch on? Try moving it to the other side. Feels weird, doesn’t it?

What about your daily commute. Always take the same route?

These routines have become habituated within us. Most of these, being somewhat simple and innocuous, are easily changeable if we so desire. And yet they are, nevertheless habits and count among the hundreds we have all acquired.

Most of the results in our lives come from the habits we have developed or purposefully adopted and if we wish for any long-term and meaningful change we need to examine the habits we wish to change and then acknowledge that those behaviours we constantly repeat are not how the habits were formed, but are the result of a process that begins with a decision or a belief that resides in our heads.

In my day job as a coach I spent many years working with clients in improving the behaviours they thought were contributing to the long-term results in their lives and I constantly shared in their frustration as they struggled to sustain new behaviours.

It was only when I began to understand the extent to which habits drive results that I truly became a coach.

I have spent many years studying and learning everything I could regarding habits: what they are; how they are formed and how they can be changed.

Today I present myself as a Habits Coach for I have learned that the greatest benefit I can bring to my clients is to help them learn and practice the tried-and-true formula that goes into the formation, maintenance and sustaining of habits.

By recognizing that we repeatedly allow the same thoughts to cycle through a heads and that the first habit to work on is the one that changes the daily messaging we present to ourselves, I have been able to spare many clients the stress and frustration that comes when we try and change habits by placing all of our focus and attention on new behaviours.

What we call habits in our personal lives is what we call culture in our business and professional lives and in my role as a corporate consultant I utilize almost identical methodologies to change organizational culture as I do to assist my individual coaching clients in acquiring new habits.

If you find yourself irritated at the difficulties of adopting and sustaining long-term change in your personal life you are almost certainly running up against the steep challenges that go with changing habits.

If this is true for you, let me help. I will guide you through the process and you will never again have to experience the frustration that comes when we find ourselves going back to our old ways.

I am in the habit of always answering my phone. Call me

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.