Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Conundrum of Habits

I would bet that there isn’t a person on this planet that does not have some combination of habits.  After all, we are creatures of habit for lots of reasons.  For example, earlier this year, I made the switch from drinking coffee in the morning to Teeccino.  After trying it a few times and discovering how seamlessly it could replace my morning ritual, it stuck like glue, and now coffee is more of a treat that I have occasionally.  For me, this was a good switch and is a good habit. But, of course, there are habits that are downright bad to get into, and some that on the surface may seem harmless, but that may be doing us a disservice.  This is the conundrum.  For example, with regard to health and wellness, good habits:

  • Save us time - It’s much easier to get into a groove when we have a routine.  Have you ever noticed that when your routine is disrupted, such as when you go on vacation or move that it takes days or even weeks to get into a rhythm?  Once we establish our habits, though, things move more smoothly and in a timely manner.
  •  Keep us focused - Are you in the habit of planning out your day either first thing in the morning or the night before?  When you have a plan and stick to it, you’re far more productive.  You’ll save time and are more likely to reach your destination, since it’s always easier to get somewhere with a roadmap or GPS.   The obvious flip side of this is never having a plan and living each day without a purpose.  
  • Help us stay healthy or in a positive frame of mind - For example, do you begin your day with some form of exercise or meditation to help manage stress?  Once you get into this habit, it’s very easy to see and feel the benefits and it’s more likely that it will become a lifelong practice.

Practicing good habits also creates a ripple effect since they can build upon themselves.  As we see and feel the positive benefits, we’re more likely to adopt more habits that will impact us in a good way.  Then there are the habits that are simply keeping us from moving forward which can either be bad, or that appear innocent.  For example:

  • Keep us in our comfort zones - this is not always the best reason to maintain a habit, since it may be keeping you stuck in a situation.  For example, if you’re used to going to bed late at night, it may be keeping you from waking up early and giving yourself time to exercise or prepare a healthy lunch for work.  As Goethe once said, “Habit is a man’s sole comfort.  We dislike doing without, even unpleasant things to which we have become accustomed.”
  • Prevent us from making positive changes - For example, maybe you like to come home from work at night and spend several hours in front of the television.  Or like me, you spend long hours in front of the computer which can be just as bad.  The other day, I sat down for the first time in a long time to watch a movie and I was literally shocked by the advertisements for ‘delicious’ fast food meals, ‘healthy’ processed foods, weight loss pills and techniques and drugs.  

Not only is sitting in front of the TV detrimental because of the lack of physical activity, but the messages are confusing and are being delivered with one thing in mind, and it's not your health.   And maybe because you’re in the habit of watching TV often, you simply don’t realize the messages you’re receiving and how they may be preventing you from making better choices for your health (for example). But coming from a perspective of experiencing something with fresh eyes and ears (sort of in my case) makes a big difference.

Habits become habits because we don’t have to think about them too much.  This makes it all the more important to be mindful about the habits that we do adopt.   Think about the habits you’ve taken on in your daily life and whether they’re helping to keep you healthy, happy, and balanced in your life.  If they are, then that’s great and hurray for you.  I bet you understand their value, which is why you began them in the first place and continue with them.  If they’re not, then maybe it’s time to find ways to eliminate or replace them, since it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.   In my case, Teecino was a perfect daily substitute for coffee.   What about you?

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