We are all creatures of habit. Unless you are a nun, a habit is defined as a regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. Our habits are so ingrained in us by the time we reach adulthood, we do some things without even thinking.
I once watched a video of a person who had been hit in the head with an ax while sleeping, perform his regular morning routine. He got up, dressed, got the paper, locked himself out, retrieved the spare key from under the mat, unlocked the door, and poured cereal and milk in a bowl before finally stopping. His routine, his habits were so established and deeply-rooted that he performed them even after he was technically deceased. Habits can be harder to break than a steel-reinforced, concrete diamond. I stole that line because I thought it was funny.
How do we develop habits? Habits start with a psychological pattern called a "habit loop," which is a three-part process.
First, there is a trigger or a cue that tells your brain to do some automatic thing or behavior. Then, there is the routine which is developed over time and is built by doing a certain activity or behavior over and over again immediately following that cue or trigger. Lastly, there is the reward. What are you getting out of doing the habit or developing the routine.
Not all habits are bad and need to be broken. For example, brushing your teeth every day is a good habit. Keep that stuff up! Incidentally, most hygiene habits are good ones and should be continued.
Some habits, however, are unhealthy or destructive to either your mind, body or spirit. Those are the habits we are talking about today - some of them at least.
Actually, I don't even want to talk about specific habits or routines. I just want you recognize and realize the ones you have which need to be broken. I also want you to realize and recognize the power you have to break them and, in doing so, create a better version of yourself. That is my hope for you.
Okay. Okay. We are way, way into this thing, and I haven't even begun to get to the point.
Whatever habit you have that is holding you back from becoming the best version of you, it is not worth holding onto any longer. I know it's comfy and cozy in your little habit hole. But, you see that's the thing about habits and holes, the longer you stay in that spot the more comfortable it is, even if it's not good for you, even if it's harmful to you, even if its harmful or upsetting to others.
Whether it's smoking, spending too much time on Facebook, drinking, poor posture, bullying, complaining, over-eating, being negative, criticizing, or damaging self-talk you have the power and intelligence and the strength to change.
Breaking habits is tough. You are tougher. Breaking a habit isn't fun. Getting rid of the negative thing that is making you less healthy or less happy is very fun. Becoming the best version of yourself is exhilarating and worth doing.
Many people have asked me a question like, "How do you just be positive?" or "How can you be positive when so many bad things are happening?" I have even heard, "It is impossible to be happy and positive when everything around you is bad."
This may become the break it better series, because there is so many things I have to say about this. Gee, maybe it's even a book! But alas I digress.
Lets first tackle being positive. I am certain there have been times when you were just going about the business of being happy, and you heard something upsetting or saw a post about something negative happening in the world and it upset you. The key is how long you allow that upset to upset you. There is a meme that says "One positive thought in the morning can change your whole day." I don't disagree. It could stand to reason, then though, that one negative thing or one thing you didn't like could ruin your whole day. Here is where we fall right smack dab into a dichotomy. While it's true a text or call or reading something good and positive could start your day off right and with you in a beautiful state of mind, I believe that getting cut off in traffic should not ruin that day and will not ruin your mood unless you choose to let it.
Remember the habit loop? Well, let's think of it as a muscle that we can strengthen. You didn't build a habit overnight, and you won't build the new one overnight. Here's the thing though, a Buick is built in a day, but it takes six months to build a Rolls Royce. I thought that was pretty good analogy for that which is worth having takes longer to build.
It does take a while to build that good habit of looking at the world in a positive light. It does take some time to teach yourself to remain positive during negative or uncertain times. I promise you it will be time well-spent.
There is another quote I love, which says, "Happy people don't have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything they have" and Abraham Lincoln said, "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. "
I would like to give you some tools. The next time you are having a great day and some bad thing comes on the radio aka the trigger, I want you to immediately hit the pause button before you react - the pause button in your mind, not the one on the radio. The next time you are gardening and you start thinking about all the bad things going on in the world today, or all the bad in your own little place in the world, pause, take a moment to acknowledge the negative thing, say a little prayer or spend a couple seconds on sending some kind of positive thought to that situation. Then, and here's the key, I want you to consciously replace that negative thought with something happy and nice.
If someone cuts you off in traffic, you realize how much it ticked you off, you pause and then you think to yourself, "Wow they must really be in a hurry to get somewhere important. I hope they make it there in time." You might even add, "I am grateful they made it in the line of traffic." But only do this if you can really be authentic and feel grateful."
The more you use these tools, the more real it will become though. You may even want to think about a time you were in such a hurry, you were the one accidentally cutting someone off.
I never, ever flip anyone off it traffic. In fact I have developed my own little way of dealing with the people who flip me off. I wave in a very friendly way. I have even been known to blow a kiss to a person who is rude in traffic. I haven't been killed for that yet.
One trick or tip I use is gratitude. If you can recognize the negative thought, acknowledge it, pause, and replace it with any kind of authentic gratitude, you are well on your way to becoming a much happier, more positive person.
I do this all of the time. I may have something irritating or upsetting happen, I react, but then I stop myself and think of all the good things I can think of and express gratitude for all that is happy and wonderful and fulfilling and right and suddenly that bad, negative thing doesn't mean as much any more.
I took all the space it was taking up in my head and I filled it with positive stuff and then the negative or the bad just didn't have enough room to exist in my mind any more. You might even want to give yourself a mechanism to use when this happens, such as squeezing your finger or biting your lip, just as a gentle reminder that it is time to pause and make a better choice.
This is going to be the break it better series. Why break it better? Because, the easiest way to break a habit is to replace that habit with, you guessed it, some better habit. Smokers quit smoking by chewing gum or chewing on a toothpick. We are going to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts or gratitude or both!
Next week we will talk about negative self-talk.