Spring Clean Your Habits
Spring (or at least pollen) is in the air, and if you’re anything like me, that means a burst of energy to do something new and different. As we open the windows and spruce up the landscaping, it’s a perfect time of year to spring-clean our habits as well.
What is a habit, exactly? Habits are learned behaviors that we do almost involuntarily, without really deciding to. How we pick up our toothbrush, sort through the mail, eat our meals, and make our coffee all started out as things we had to learn how to do. After years of daily practice, we can now practically do them in our sleep. Sometimes that’s a really good thing. Having a habit of immediately putting on your seat belt when getting into the car will keep you safe. Having a habit of finishing a plate of food beyond the point of being hungry, on the other hand, will result in sneaky weight gain over time.
That’s why it’s important to wake ourselves up from our trance once in a while, and make sure that our habits are helpful and positive, instead of setting us up for sabotage down the road. Here’s how you can spring clean your habits!
START NOTICING YOUR PATTERNS
Sometimes, we know right off the bat when we have a nagging habit that needs to bite the dust. Other times, we are not aware of self-sabotage until we take the time to see it. All change begins with awareness, so take some time to really notice how you go through your day, and allow yourself to discover whether there’s anything you would like to change. Identify these things by keeping a log of different habits such as bed times, level of hunger before a meal, level of fullness after a meal, or number of days saying, “I’ll do better tomorrow.” It’s OK if you don’t like what you notice. You’re going to change it soon. And if you don’t notice anything you want to change, then go on with your bad self. Everyone else, keep reading.
MAKE THE DECISION TO CHANGE
This might seem like a no-brainer, but deciding to change is actually a pretty big deal. Change can involve leaving behind patterns that are comfortable, rewarding on some level, and connected to relationships with other people. Let’s say you want to change an after-dinner ice cream habit that you share with your spouse. It might feel weird to sit on the couch and not eat ice cream the first few times (I know this from personal experience)! But deciding to change means being OK with things feeling weird for a little while. Remember, it felt weird to hold a toothbrush once, too. It felt weird to drive a car. You got used to it. Committing to change a habit becomes easier with the next step.
Expecting to simply stop doing something that has become a habit over time is not realistic. So, be prepared with something else to do that is appealing and rewarding, or take steps towards change with gradual compromises. It may not be realistic to stop an ice cream habit cold turkey. But going for a walk first and switching to yogurt may be a reasonable compromise and becomes rewarding when you have a visual reminder of your motivation for change. Keep a photograph, a key word, or a significant number within eyesight at the times you are most vulnerable to not go through with your plan. It’s amazing what can happen when you see a picture of the children you want to be able to run around with taped to your television screen!
REMEMBER: HABITS ARE FUNNY THINGS
Habits sneak up on us when we’re not paying attention and settle in like family. And just like family, eventually they need to leave. Pay attention. Notice your habits. And if you see any that need to be spruced up for spring, pull them out like a weed and let the flowers bloom.
Just think, cleaning a bad habit is a lot less scary than what’s waiting in that cluttered garage!
– HEATHER FUSELIER, CTTS, CPT, CHC