Life is Nothing But a Series of Habits
Next time you get out of the shower pay attention to how you dry yourself off. I bet you will notice (if you haven’t already) that you will dry off your body in the same systematic pattern each time. Even which arm you dry first will likely always be the same. For me, I start with my left shoulder. This is a habit- whether you realize it or not, and even though it’s not what we typically think of.
In fact, everything in life is a habit in some shape or form.
Most people tend to go to bed around the same time at night and wake up the same time in the morning. You can be in the habit of drinking coffee in the morning, working out in the evening, not replying to text messages right away, playing on your phone before bed, going to church on Sunday, or stretching before you exercise.
Everything thing you do from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep is powered by a habit in some way.
If you will be living in the pattern of habits anyway, why not let them work for you?
Making Habits Work For You
Whatever we do routinely becomes our standard procedure.
If you want to change your habits, you have to change your routine.
This process takes time, but it’s genuinely the only way to change how you operate.
Everyone has a different opinion on how long it takes a new habit to stick. Most frequently, I hear 21 days. But honestly, I think even this quantification is harmful.
If you operate thinking that you only need to do an action for 21 days for it to become routine, if it doesn’t become routine, you will quickly fall off the bandwagon after those 21 days pass. You “failed” because it took you longer than 21 days and you will fall back into what had been your habit prior. After all, that is what your body is familiar with.
The longer you had a habit previously, the more dedicated you will have to be to recreate the new habit.
Muscle memory is powerful.
Muscle memory means that your body will resort to what feels comfortable and “normal” to it. We used this phrase a lot in my colorguard team (It’s essentially a combination of dance, and spinning flags and wooden rifles/sabres).
Many people would come to our college team with bad habits they had learned in high school programs with limited instruction. Correcting these habits was extremely difficult because they were so engrained in their muscle memory.
The thing is, we had to not only teach the correct way to do a move, we also had to train that correct way to become muscle memory. If we didn’t get to that point of familiarity in “time” (before the end of the season), over the summer the old habit would reform and we would essentially be back to where we started.
Changing Habits Longterm
You must think longterm in order to find success with habit-changing.
Don’t believe me? First try with something trivial. Try to dry off after the shower starting with a different side of your body than you typically do. Sleep on the other side of the bed than what is “normal” for you. Brush your hair by bringing it to the other side of your head than what you typically do.
It will feel “wrong” at first, and then over time, it will begin to feel right. But, if before you get to that ‘“feeling right” stage (however long it takes for you), you stop consciously deciding to do it, you will resort to what you have done for the longest period of time.
You will jump into bed on the same side you normally do because that is what is comfortable.
Now longterm thinking doesn’t mean you have to concentrate on acting a certain way every day for the rest of your life. That’s often too overwhelming of a thought. If that is too overwhelming for you, just concentrate on completing the task each day. The point is not to have a deadline for your newly formed habit, but that doesn’t mean you have to think years into the future to find success.
Recognize what you want to achieve in the longterm, and then focus day to day on making it happen.
Work in Stages
Every time I’ve tried to overhaul my life and become an overall better person, I’ve failed. It’s quite difficult to change all of your daily habits at once. This is why new years resolutions often fail- because we are trying to do too much at once.
We attempt to (all at the same time)-
- Exercise regularly
- Eat healthy for every meal
- Get on a better sleep schedule
- Limit our screen time
- Work on our mental health
We focus on too much simultaneously, end up “failing” a few weeks in. Then, we wait around until the next New year’s Eve comes around.
If instead we focused on changing one facet of muscle memory at a time, we would likely have better longterm results.
It shouldn’t be an all or nothing mentality.
When you are not consciously aware of your habits, they control you. When you sit and think about what it is you want to change, and systematically work through those facets one at time, you will likely find more success.
Further, thinking longterm is necessary. Don’t fixate on that three week mark, or when it passes and you haven’t reached your goals you will falter. Get up each day with the intention of completing your primary goal, and over time it will become a new muscle memory.
Then, rinse and repeat with other actions you want to change.
Habits will exist and persist whether you consciously work to change them or not. Why not allow them to work for you, and change your life in the process?