The other day, while brainstorming a new program we’re developing around habits, my business partner Cherstin, referred to me as an advanced habit practitioner. This made me laugh and I admit I love it because it’s true. Although I’ve never thought of it like this, I’m an advanced habit practitioner. What exactly does that mean? It means I’ve created my life and my regular routine, one conscious habit at a time over many years, instead of creating it with unconscious or mindless habits (although I have a few of those too).
We’re creatures of habit and as Will Durant said (and has also been atributed to Aristotle) “You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit”.
According to Wikipedia: A habit is a routine or behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. Habits are things we do without thinking about them. We don’t necessarily make a conscious choice to do something, we just do it and the more often we repeat it, the more likely it becomes that we’ll do it again and again. There’s a reason that addictions are often referred to as “habits”.
I decided to do a really organized (anal) review of my habits. I actually made a spreadsheet because that’s the kind of nerd I am. I counted a total of 86 habits, 72 of them I practice daily and the rest at least every other day. I broke this down further and came up with the following: 79 of my habits are intentional. They have a specific purpose and meaning behind them and I do them with intention versus doing them mindlessly. Those same 79 habits are also my positive habits, ones I’ve deliberately honed over time.
All of my positive habits have purpose behind them. For example, I brush and floss my teeth regularly because I want to keep all of my teeth for my entire life, not to mention how much money this simple act saves on dental bills. I do yoga and other movement daily to stay sane, literally. I do this every day because not only is it good for me physically but it makes me a much nicer person which positively impacts my mental/emotional health and my relationships.
Our habits can have a much farther reach than we’re aware of and bleed into all areas of our life.
One example is a habit of smoking cigarettes. Not only does this negatively impact our physical health, it also impacts our productivity (what? You’re out on yet another smoke break?), which can impact our cash flow and finances, not to mention that bad health is correlated with depression and can negatively impact our relationships. On the other side lies the positive habit of daily movement. Not only is this good for our physical health, keeping us in shape, providing feel-good chemicals and increasing blood flow to the brain which makes us smarter, more productive, more creative and less likely to suffer from degenerative diseases. Being more productive and creative can lead to more money which can lead to more security and so on and so forth. It also puts us in a better mood which positively impacts our relationships.
Back to my 79 good habits (and my 7 neutral or bad ones). I didn’t wake up one day and say I’m going to start a crap ton of healthy habits today and then keep em up for the rest of my life. I built them up one habit at a time over a period of many years.
The beauty and convenience of habits are that once formed, they go on autopilot, meaning you no longer have to make a decision to do them. This frees up much needed mental space to make other decisions in your life. I don’t get up in the morning and think should I do yoga today? I get up and do yoga because that’s what I do every day and it’s who I’ve become, someone who practices yoga daily. It’s a habit and it’s worked itself deep into my neurology.
The secret to becoming an advanced habit practitioner is to pick one habit and commit to practicing it with intention for a specific time period. In the beginning this involves some will power (which is why you only want to pick one at at a time as the more will power you spend on one thing, the less you’ll have available for others). The longer you do it, the less willpower is required and once the magic of brain rewiring has taken place, it’s become a habit. No more will power required and no more thinking about whether you’re going to do it or not. When was the last time you needed to bust out some willpower to say, drink your morning cup of coffee (a habit), take a shower (also a habit), or hit the snooze button (yup, another habit).
I’ve heard a lot of different numbers thrown out about the number of days or repetitions it takes to create a habit, anywhere from 2 weeks to 40 days or more. I like the 40 day number and if you want to find out more about why, read Cherstin’s article on this.
Last year,I decided to practice a new habit and; to go through a series of chakra meditations that Cherstin created and spend 40 days on each one. For those that aren’t familiar with chakras, they’re a energy centers in the body that correlate to different areas of the physical, emotional and mental aspects of our experience. As of this writing, I’m in the middle of the 3rd chakra and I’ve been doing this for 109 days straight. I haven’t missed a single day. I’ve noticed a few interesting things while developing and strengthening this habit. One is that I couldn’t imagine going a day without doing these meditations. I don’t feel like I “have” to do them because I committed but I want to do them because I love how they make me feel and I’m seeing the positive impact in my life. I’m not sure what I’ll do once I finish all 7 but I can guarantee that I’ll continue some version of this practice.
Another pattern that’s emerged is during the first 10 days, I notice a lot of positive change, during the second 10 days, a lot of resistance comes up and I really process the negative emotions associated with each chakra (i.e. fear for the first chakra, feelings in general for the second, anger and resentment for the third which is the one I’m currently on). Around day 20, it all seems to open up and the remaining 20 days seem to be about strengthening the positive qualities of each chakra. This process hasn’t always been easy or fun but the changes are real and palpable. I’m willing to go through the metaphorical fire to come out the other side and I’m committed to continuing this process.
This can also come up in other habit formation. We commit to doing something, do it for a little while, then start to experience resistance and stop doing it, rather than working through the resistance to get through to the other side. The same can be said for a lot of exercise programs or hobbies, at first we’re excited and committed, then we plateau and quit. The timing isn’t necessarily always the same, but it happens. It’s only when we work through the plateaus that we get to the real gems on the other side, such as having formed a healthy habit that serves us or getting really good at something we love to do not to mention the exhilaration of breaking through a plateau. Having an accountability buddy to keep us on track when we go through the difficult phase is really helpful.
What are some habits that you’d like to acquire this year? Are you willing to commit for 40 days to make it happen? You can comment here.
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