Several months ago living in NY, I had myself convinced that it was okay to make a morning, afternoon, and/or evening stop at one of the many enticing local shops to buy coffee and a scone, or croissant. Sure, it was “only” an average 6$ and 30 grams of sugar every time I went, but I slowly began to realize, as I thought about the long-term costs, that this wasn’t necessarily benefiting me. So, I moved to Miami.
Just kidding, kind of. Really though, before that, I decided to try and “kick this habit” I had created. I tried making coffee, tea, or smoothies at home, bringing them to work, making breakfast- It just wasn’t the same. One day on the way to work I threw my homemade version away, hid my travel mug, and bought coffee anyways. I knew that was bad. Really thinking about it, it wasn’t the caffeine, or time effectiveness, or really even the taste that kept me going back.. it was the cute little bakery, the aroma, the bustle, the interaction, the coziness. It had become a habit and it felt good.
This experience (and many others) precipitated my thinking further about habits. What is it that makes something irresistible, even when it may not ordinarily be irresistible? I think it’s the feeling. The initial newness, then the familiarity, the comfort. It becomes a way of being- our world, our truth (now we’re talking about more than coffee). What’s interesting, (because I love noting that) is that generally, I think that we tend to identify ‘habits’ as either neutral or bad. Eating chips in bed is a bad habit, twirling my hair is a neutral habit. Thus, we set ourselves up to acquire only negative or neutral habits. Then we expect to be able to stop the habit without replacing it with anything positive- quit “cold turkey,” we say.
But actually, when you look further, these habits, reoccurring behaviors, or things that seem to happen on auto-pilot can be positive as well- We just call them ‘resolutions’ and pick them out on New Years. Doing yoga on a regular basis, packing lunch, saying “please” and “thank you”- these things take time and effort to ingrain just as other habits do. The main difference is that making it a habit to do such things as eat healthy, save money, and act with kindness truly benefit us.
It sounds easy enough, “just go to the gym,” but what is the process of making it happen actually like? Several books have been written on the process of forming a habit, but even without reading them, I believe that the true magic lies in the following- realize, reconsider, and redirect. When the evidence is clear that a behavior, relationship, attitude, mindset, etc. is not serving you, do your best to build insight about it. Sometimes this involves asking a friend, seeing a therapist, or yes- soul searching. Once you’ve become aware, consider how the habit is functioning; what beliefs, actions, or people are involved- how does it thrive? Then consider whether or not you would be better off without it. If so, find a way to redirect your attention and energy.
Replace your old habit with a healthy one, but one that still pleases you. And this doesn’t mean replace a negative habit with a not as negative one (such as the extreme case of using methadone to treat heroine addiction- which is also dangerous and addictive). But maybe instead of waking up and checking Instagram and Facebook for 15 minutes with one eye open, I can stretch or meditate. It won’t be as simple as “just doing it-” we may be aversive to the new habit at first. It may take patience, exploration, coaxing, reinforcement. We may have to kiss the new habit as we kick the old one- it’s a hard knock life.