The chronic lifestyle stresses that we are dealing with on a monthly, weekly, daily or hourly basis are caused by and accumulation of our habits. There are many things that lead to the big stresses in our lives. Most of these are caused by the summation of all the tiny little habits that we allow to form each and every day.
How do our habits form?
Our habits are formed from our repeated actions, or in some cases inactions. There are two sections to a habit which each can be broken down into two further stages. To look at how a habit starts intentionally or unintentionally, we start with the second section. There are two stages here, an action that takes place followed by a reward for doing this action.
For example say you were at a friends house and you had never seen or heard of coffee before, I know that’s crazy but just try and imagine. Your friend is making themselves themselves a cup of coffee and they ask if you want one, so you being the adventurous person you are accepts. You take a sip of the coffee and BOOM!!! you get a hit of flavor. Your not quite sure yet but once you’ve finished the cup you have a load of energy and head off for a proactive day. This is the first occurrence of the action followed by reward.
The following week you are back at your friends house but this time you’re extremely tired from a tough few days at work. Since you liked the last cup of coffee you accept the offer again this week, soon your tiredness is gone and your proactive again. this is the second occurrence but this time a realization occurs, if I drink coffee I feel awake.
You head to the shop the next day and pick up some coffee for yourself. First you start off with a cup of coffee the odd time when you feel tired, then it’s daily first thing in the morning, after a wile you need to keep topping up the caffeine levels through the day because you have crashes from caffeine. After a few months or years your tolerance for coffee has increased so you drink it much stronger than you had at the beginning just to feel any effect. Now your in a state where you have to have a cup to feel alert in the morning at all and you can’t sleep at night because there is too much caffeine in your system inhibiting the release of chemicals that help you get to sleep.
This is an example of a habit forming without you being aware of its formation. Within this example we also have the first section to the formation and operation of habits. The trigger and the craving. Whenever you feel low in energy or tired you drink a cup of coffee. Therefore, every time you are tired you brain sends a signal that you normally drink coffee now, you then drink the coffee and feel awake, once the caffeine wears off you get tired and this triggers the craving again.
What habits do we have?
This is the exercise that we will focus on for this post. It’s time to get back out the pen and paper and identify the problems because if we can’t identify them we can’t fix them.
For the first part of this exercise, write down the bad habits a specifically as we possibly can. Drinking coffee is not a good example of a bad habit. I drink too much coffee, or I am too dependent on coffee to feel awake, or I drink coffee when I don’t really need to, are examples of good statements for bad habits.
An example list of bad habits are:
- I drink too much coffee
- I allow my laundry to build up to the point of overflowing before I sort it
- I often skip breakfast
- I have to have a drink every evening after work to relax
- I do things as they are needed rather than as soon as I know about them
- I wash a dish to use it rather than as soon as I’m finished with it
- I put off doing a job until I have more similar jobs to do and then I do them altogether
- I agree to do a task before I know if I have the time
- I don’t wash the dog until he stinks
- I complain about my work all the time
- I’m a smoker
- I’m an alcoholic
- I ignore warning lights or noises that my car makes until it breaks down
- I don’t service things until there is a problem
- I wait until I need something to get it rather than getting it in advance
- I hit the snooze button over and over and end up running late for things
- I always eat too much even though I feel full
- I stay up late on social media in bed
- I’ll continue watching tv even if I’m drifting in and out of sleep
- I spend more than my wages each month and always end up eating into my credit card to pay rent.
- I impulsive buy things that I don’t really want or ever use
The bad habits above have been built up over time as coping mechanisms for the chronic lifestyle stresses discussed in part 1 of this blog series (where the habits may be quick fixes for the stresses but cause more long-term damage). The bad habits are also things that we are constantly procrastinating from doing and causes us stress or are impulsive things that we get instant gratification from but regret later.
Write down as many of these habits as you can think of. If it’s something you do regularly and know or think that you shouldn’t do as much or at all write is down. If you have 200+ bad habits, tiny or massive write them down you’re the only one that’s gonna be looking at this (unless you show someone). To be thorough in the analysis try looking at the list of chronic lifestyle stresses that you put in the list from the previous post and ask yourself what bad habits you have that are causing or contributing to theses chronic lifestyle stresses. You may also think of more lifestyle stresses that you should add to the previous list while performing this exercise.
The next step is to identify any habits that may be having a massive effect on your health. These may be the habits that you need to work on immediately.
Then identify the habits that you feel you are the least dependent upon or that you procrastinate the least from and doesn’t require much time to perform. These are the first set of habits that we will get rid of. The reason that we will start with the small bad habits is that once we have defeated a few of the small ones we will have built up some confidence so that we can take on a bigger one.
It’s not all negative!
Ok it’s time for an important part of this exercise that is on a more positive note. Bad habits may take up a large part of our lives (for now), but there are also good habits that we have. It’s time to list the good habits that we have so that we can build on them.
Some example of good habits are:
- I brush my teeth every morning & night
- I shower every morning
- I reward myself when I finish a project
- I read whenever I get the chance
- I take my dog for walks
- I make sure my kids have breakfast and a packed lunch every morning
- I meet my close friend once every week
- I volunteer at the dog shelter
- I always show up for work
There are so many more great things that we all do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Recognize these things that you do and acknowledge that even though you have flaws (nobody is perfect), you still have good habits that you partake in.
Ok so now that we have recognized the chronic lifestyle stresses that are affecting us and the habits that are causing or contributing to the chronic lifestyle stresses, we can begin to take some action to turning things around.
I recommend tackling a small habit at first if you don’t have the self confidence to tackle something massive. By taking on and beating a few small habits this will improve the quality of your life a little bit but mostly it will give you the confidence to go big.
For the first habit that you are trying to beat there are a few different approaches which may suit you better depending on what you chose to tackle. We will go through some here and you can either use one or a combination.
Good habits are here for a lifetime, this can be a scary thought so just set a target for the next 30 days to follow through with a task. The important thing is that it is performed every single day for the next 30 days.
Build on the good!
The first tactic to getting rid of a habit is to do more of the good habits that you have already established. Most of us have a morning routine of some sort, for some it’s snooze the alarm fifteen times until you wake with a shock and are getting dressed while you’re running out the door, and for others it’s much calmer where they get up three hours before work, have breakfast and maybe even lunch before work (or second breakfast if you’re a hobbit). Either way its a routine. The morning routine should be a central part of the day and we should build on it where possible.
If low self confidence and anxiety is a chronic lifestyle stress for you because you have the habit of telling yourself you stupid, ugly, or fat (or you have the habit of listening to others say it) then start by adding a habit to your morning routine where after you brush your teeth and wash your face you look at yourself in the mirror and give yourself three complements followed by three things about your life that you are grateful for. It’s something quick, simple and you’re adding it to the habit of brushing your teeth. Maybe you just have three positive messages to yourself written on posted notes by the front door, where you read them aloud before you leave the house every morning. This is adding it onto the habit of leaving the house to go to work. Either way this habit helps shift your mindset to beat the negative focus.
Are you forgetful and have a bad habit of forgetting your work ID regularly? Start to create habits to help yourself remember things that you always need. Stop at the front door and take 20 seconds to check your pockets/ bag for all the essentials.
A habit that I have found to be great for my morning starts the night before. In order to make sure that I eat breakfast every morning I prepare my porridge the night before. I’m not motivated to measure out ingredients and sort things in the morning so I have it all prepared in a saucepan the night before and in my tired state in the morning all I have to do is turn on the heat and stir. The next thing I know, my energy levels are up and I’m writing in my journal or doing some of the other good habits I’ve built onto my morning routine. If I miss my breakfast however I often get a foggy head and feel grumpy because all I have is coffee, I usually skip all the other good habits and don’t want to do them until after I’ve eaten.
I’m too busy!
One of the easiest ways to get rid of a bad habit is to not have the time to partake in it. Have you got a habit of spending a large number of hours doing something that you feel is a waste of time doing and that you only find mildly interesting but you can’t seem to stop doing? Perhaps it’s scrolling through social media or watching TV.
One of the ways to shift this habit and many other habits is to be too busy to partake in the habit. If your a smoker, have you ever been working on a project where you’re fully engaged, and trying to solve the problem, and you never got a craving for a cigarette until there was a break or you finished? That’s the sort of thing we’re looking for here. Something engaging and keeping our focus to distract from the bad habit.
It’s best not to think about the habit that you are trying to avoid here because that puts it in the front of your mind. Instead look for a new habit that is engaging and time consuming and fun. It doesn’t have to be a “good” habit in that it actively make life easier or better quality but maybe it keeps things neutral where it better than the alternative. Playing video games all evening, every evening is better than getting messy drunk and getting aggressive with your friends.
If we give ourselves projects or take part in new hobbies on a daily or weekly basis we may find that we naturally perform less of the bad habits. These hobbies could be different on a daily or weekly basis but keeping too busy to do the bad habit is a way to begin eliminating it from your life.
Out of site out of mind!
This final tactic is to make the bad habits hard to perform. Is the bad habit you have eating junk food late in the evening? Then maybe you should invest in a timer lockbox, where you only have access to the junk food for a certain period of time each day and if you miss the opportunity then you’ll have to eat an apple instead or wait until tomorrow.
For me a big habit I needed to get rid of was staying up late at night scrolling through social media. Social media in general was consuming large chunks of my time but the fact that is was cutting into my sleep was a habit that I decided I needed to stop immediately.
To stop this habit I started leaving my phone to charge on the other side of my bedroom. This means that now I get into bed to go straight to sleep and not lay there scrolling for hours on end. The added benefits of not staying up late are that I actually get to sleep easier and I have to get out of bed to turn my alarm off. Now I’ve completely gotten rid of my social media addiction by deleting the apps from my mobile completely and only access them through my desktop. This means that I barely use it at all because I use my desktop for more important things like this blog, YouTube or video games.
If you make the bad habits hard to access then it requires more effort to perform them, you may not eliminate the bad habit this way but you will reduce how frequently you perform it which can make a different tactic to eliminating the habit much more effective in the future.
Today we looked at the habits that are causing the chronic lifestyle stresses that are plaguing us. We also looked at the good habits that allow us to go about our days and function to whatever degree we function.
We looked at how habits are formed either intentionally or unintentionally. We looked at different tactics that we can use to break some of those habits, and ways to build new habits, so that we can begin to build ourselves up.
Change is difficult but we won’t make changes until we really look and see that there is a problem, what the problems are, and what is causing them. We then need to do one massive thing.
Take responsibility of the bad things and the good things in your life. Truly take ownership of the fact that you are the way you are because of the choices you have made based on the situations you were in. Sure they were bad situations, and you dealt with them in the way that you thought was the best way to deal with them at the time, but you need to take ownership that you made these decisions and move on from them. You can’t grow until you take ownership of the good and the bad. By truly looking at yourself and putting your stresses and bad habits down on paper you have taken the first steps to change but you need to be brutally honest with yourself and take ownership. Once you have acknowledged that the bad things you are doing are bad and that you own them, then you can now let them go and stop doing them.
Don’t ignore your problems, own them.