Thoughts and such like.....
'A recent study showed that when doctors tell heart patients they will die if they don't change their habits, only one in seven will be able to follow through successfully'.
(Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. (2009) Immunity to Change).
The above quote really set me thinking about how difficult some habits are to change, and how we rarely think of some as addictions; we are accustomed to them, we have years of repeating them and have forgotten why we began them, and also, that we have the ability to stop them. What is it about habits that make them so difficult to change? Some habits are formed in childhood and are so inbred within us that we often aren't even aware of them. Others are formed as we go through life to make things easier, to be cool (often in the case of habits formed in our teens), to cut down on time (driving to an appointment), as a reaction to a situation, and so on.
One of the first books I read on habits was Charles Duhigg 'The Power of Habit', Why we do what we do in life and business. (charlesduhigg.com/the-power-of-habit/). I had heard a discussion about his book on the radio, and then seeing the cover at the bookstore I was attracted to the colour (yellow), and then seduced by the narrative on the inside cover. The book explains in easy language why some of us, individuals and companies, can change overnight, while others continue to struggle for years. He talks of focus and understanding how habit patterns shape us. Through reading I was able to recognize a particularly bad habit and one I wanted to get rid of: each time I went grocery shopping I would buy myself a chocolate bar, because it was a task that I really don't like and feel/felt I should be rewarded for doing it. Once I was aware of the habit, I could work on replacing it with something that had less of an impact on my person, and as a consequence lost the couple of pounds I had gained in the few years since it began. Can you guess what my new reward is?
The next book I found was Immunity to Change, (www.amazon.ca/Immunity-Change-Overcome-Potential-Organization/dp/1422117367) quoted above. Now as a coach I'm always trying to understand the struggles I, and my clients, have in meeting our goals, and the vision of who we want to become. I loved this book, and half-way through asked permission of a client to use the strategies outlined, in our coaching sessions - this meant extra work for her, asking her to be vulnerable to her community, and extra work for me as her coach, however I was convinced that some of the challenges she was experiencing in life could be addressed by using the tools outlined. After some time, even before finishing all the exercises she was able to experience a break through in consciousness around a habit that had begun in childhood, an awareness as she moved into the habit, and with the power of awareness was able to, using small steps, move toward breaking the habit that was causing her such grief. Did I say I loved this book?
Habits are often unconscious, we're so accustomed to them that we forget why we formed them in the first place, what it was that we were trying to accomplish. We don't realize that because they were made by us, we also have the power to break them. Sometimes as a habit becomes more, an addiction and we may need extra help, however just the act of recognizing that this action/reaction is habitually can be the first step in changing, and choosing a different response.
More recently I read Gretchen Rubin's book 'Better than Before. Mastering the habits of our Everyday Lives', (www.amazon.ca/Better-Than-Before-Habits-Procrastinate/dp/0385348630). Again a thoroughly absorbing book, filled with ideas and science related to habit formation she also states the obvious: ' the true secret to habit change is first, to know yourself'. She uses herself, family and friends to test her theories and tells of the outcomes and her own thought process on the science. A fun book to read.
But to get back to the quote at the top of this blog. Many of us would like to think that if it was a life or death situation, we would be able to change a habit, but science is telling us differently - only 14% are able to do so. As we age, some habits are important to examine and maybe change. What about an introvert whose main social interaction takes place during work hours, as they move toward retirement, they may want to look at how they will socialize once they stop working, and begin to cultivate the habit of getting to know people outside their current circle. For many people as they age, isolation and loneliness can bring on mental health issues.
Physical health is always a big topic, and as noted in another blog, science suggests that as little as 20% of health problems are inherited, so we can no longer blame Mum & Dad! It is sobering to visit residential care facilities and see the myriad of health challenges our elders have - how can we avoid these as we age? Are we willing to change some of our eating and exercise habits to move the dial away from chronic illness, heart problems etc.? If we are expected to live to 85 - 90+ years, how do we want those last ten to 15 years to look? Do we still want to be able to physically and mentally enjoy ourselves - what part do diet and exercise play in helping us reach that goal?
How can we begin to replace habits that no longer serve us with ones that may be initially difficult to practice, but in the long term will allow us to live physically, mentally and emotionally in a more healthy way?
Me, there are still habits I'd like to change, and I'm working on them. What habits do you want to change? How are you going about changing them? Leave a comment below and tell me your ideas for changing unhealthy habits into those that serve you better?
ps. You've probably guessed it, my new shopping reward is buying books, slightly more expensive but so much better for me!
Maeve O'Byrne's Blog