Humans are creatures of habit. Haven’t you heard that before? Oftentimes, we fail to recognize just how much our habits influence our lives. Habits are like votes we use to vote for the kind of person we want to be and the kind of like we want to live.
What/who are you voting for?
WHAT ARE HABITS AND WHY ARE THEY SO DANG IMPORTANT?
When you hear the word “habit” what comes to mind? Biting fingernails? Smoking?
How about adding chocolate chips to your healthy smoothies (guilty as charged)? Habits play a crucial role in life as we know it, and also hold weight in the kind of life we want to live. They can keep you stunted and stuck in one place. They can get you one step closer to your goals. Habits can ground you in the present and transport you to your future.
If you want to make any lasting change in your life, whether it’s improving your mental health or being a healthier and more fulfilled person, you might just want to start by looking at your habits.
Habits run our lives. They’re very much a part of who we are, what we believe, and what we do. They influence our behaviors, shape our self-beliefs, and guide our actions. There’s little in life that’s not impacted by our habits: Lifestyle choices, productivity, relationship development, work…I could go on and on.
Habits can be formed and become automatic. Think of it as the brain’s way to save energy by forming an automatic response and not requiring you to give it much thought. Take breathing for example. Our brain sets this literally-life giving “habit” on autopilot so we don’t have to think twice and go about our day. That way there’s more room for bigger issues and our focus is reserved for more urgent or complex matters. This serves us well if our habits are helping us, but not so much when the habits are hurting us or keeping us stuck.
Here’s a quick equation for you (side note: I don’t like math. Algebra wasn’t my thing. Satan laughed when he put the alphabet in math. Thankfully this isn’t algebra…).
The habits you have on a regular basis = the sum of the kind of life you want to live.
The kind of life you want to live, be it present or in the future, is the sum of what you do on a daily basis.
You can’t just wish to be successful. You won’t go to sleep one day with crippling anxiety, do nothing about it, and wake up anxiety-free the next day (believe me, I’ve tried).
It takes work. The work begins with taking a look at your daily habits and asking yourself if your habits are supporting or not supporting the person, parent, spouse, student, etc. you want to be or goals you aspire to accomplish.
A NEW WAY TO LOOK AT HABITS
When you hear the word “habit”, you might think of two things: good habits and bad habits. I believe that solely separating them into these two categories come with a stigma- having “bad” habits might make you feel like you’re in the wrong or inherently bad. There’s likely to be a level of guilt or shame there. But it’s not true! I mean, if you have a habit of kicking puppies or stealing candy from children, that’s not great and you probably need more help than this blog post can provide.
Using the terms “bad” can be soul-crushing if you’re not careful with how you frame it.
Instead, consider these labels when you’re thinking about habits: Life-giving habits and life-stunting habits.
It’s helpful to identify which habits you have and whether or not they support the kind of life you want to live and the person you want to be.
Life-giving habits add positive value and influence to your life. They support you in living the life you want to live and being who you want to be.
EXAMPLES OF LIFE-GIVING HABITS:
- Brushing your teeth is a daily life-giving habit because it’s supporting your physical well being.
- Making healthy diet and lifestyle choices that encourage healing and health to your body and mind.
- Getting to bed at a reasonable time so your body can recover and your mind can process.
- When something crappy happens, speaking life and having a positive perspective over yourself and the situation.
Life-stunting habits don’t have to make you feel like poo but they don’t necessarily add positive value or influence to your life. They do not support the kind of life you want to live or the kind of person you want to be, or at least they make it a slower process.
EXAMPLES OF LIFE-STUNTING HABITS:
- Speaking death or constant negativity over yourself or others.
- Scrolling on your phone first thing in the morning or before bed and comparing yourself to others before giving yourself a fighting chance.
- Making diet and lifestyle choices that don’t contribute to healing and health for your body and mind.
- When someone says something rude to you, your immediate response is venting to a friend and adding fuel to the fire.
“Life stunting” might sound serious- but this is a serious matter. What you choose as habits in your life will influence the kind of person you are and the kind of life you live. These un-supportive habits don’t make you “bad” and don’t mean you’re any less, but are they adding positive value to your life and getting you a step closer to your goals?
CHANGING HABITS ISN’T A CAKEWALK
It takes more than just “self-control”. Developing and changing habits is more than a mindset; there are physical components involved in habit formation. Habits are formed on reward-based learning. This involves three components: A trigger, a behavior, and a reward.
Something happens (trigger), we do something (behavior), we feel a certain way (reward).
Take hunger, for example, You feel hungry and your tummy rumbles > you eat food> you feel satisfied.
Often times, when we do certain things, we feel a certain way. If our brains send off good-feeling hormones in response to the reward, we feel good in our physical body. Our bodies get so used to it that it becomes a habit. (Side note: I can’t wait to dive into this in the future!). If you’re trying to change an eating habit/pattern, for example, your body will resist it at first because it’s been used to this.
Changing habits isn’t easy and it takes time. If you don’t already know it, breaking old habits and creating new ones, while it can be beneficial, can be HARD. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve tried to make a change and gave up. This is because when you repeat certain behavior or cycle long enough, it gets engraved in neuro-pathways and your brain puts it on auto-pilot. Just like it took time to form the habit, it’s going to take time to make changes. It’s important to understand that the kind of life-giving habits that truly change our lives and contribute to us thriving, take acknowledging these habits as lifestyle changes, not temporary fixes. It’s not a fad diet; it’s an intentional decision to keep trying and moving forward.
Rome wasn’t built overnight, and neither were these patterns. On average, it takes 21 days to form a habit. Use that as your guide- but not as your life sentence.
If you hit the 21-day mark and still feel like it’s hard, don’t beat yourself up. Be gentle with yourself in this process. Don’t get to the 21-day point and think that you’ll never experience the craving, desire, or pull to make that same choice and choose the same response as before. Fresh baked cookies still make my mouth water. Every. Single. Time. But I gave up the little gluten-filled devils a long time ago. Just because it’s been three years doesn’t mean I don’t still crave them on occasion or at least drool when I see them come out of someone’s oven. But knowing that eating them 1) upsets my body and 2) upsets my mental health, keeps me from making the choice to cave.
I have no doubt that you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that the desire isn’t as unyielding as it was before. The negative thoughts don’t linger as long. The force isn’t as strong as it once was. And it feels better, it feels lighter, to be on this new path that leads to more life-giving choices.
QUICK TIPS ON CHANGING HABITS
Looking at changing out some life-stunting habits for some life-giving habits? Here are a few tips:
Take responsibility- You have to decide if you’re in. Making life changes requires self- awareness, and effort. It’s a journey, not an overnight fix. You’re the only person that can do this work- nobody can do it for you. You need to decide if you’re in and ready to take responsibility for your part in this process.
Focus on increasing the life-giving habits first. This doesn’t have to be about depravity. Add something of value, or a life-giving habit, to your routine instead of immediately removing something first. Drink more water during the day. Start the morning and end the evening with gratitude.
Before long, you’ll reap the benefits of this positive change. When you start to feel the difference, you’ll be more motivated to keep going.
Start small. Change is hard, especially at first. It’s easy to jump on the self-help train and go balls to the wall. Your body needs time to adjust, your mind needs time to adjust, YOU need time to adjust. Don’t think you have to tackle every single life-stunting habit that comes to mind in one fell swoop- you’ll just overwhelm yourself.
Give yourself grace. Remember, this will take time and it looks different for everyone. For some, change comes for gracefully than others. Be patient with yourself as you navigate uncharted territory and unlearn old behaviors and actions and re-learn or learn new ones. Giving ourselves grace is SO hard, but it’s SO good. We need to be more kind to ourselves.
Celebrate the small victories! Just by accomplishing tip #1, you’re already a stride ahead from where you started! That’s huge, friend!
If you have habits that don’t support the kind of life you really want, and you want to replace them with life-giving habits, it’s important to remember that doing so doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person. It just means you recognize it’s time to step into more of who you want to be and the kind of life you want to live. You can start NOW. Just be kind to yourself in the process.
LIFE-GIVING HABITS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
- 5 minutes of gratitude in the morning
- Intermittent breath work and meditation throughout my day
- When I feel sad or upset, I allow myself a few minutes to feel that way and then I start speaking words of life and positive affirmations over myself
- Journaling or praying before venting to someone about my bad day- going to God first
Exchange life-stunting habits for life-giving habits and you’ll really start changing your life, your mood, your body, and wellness. We truly are creatures of habit and it’s time to start benefiting from it.
What’s a habit that you want to work on changing or improving?