Like a lot of people, I struggle to cultivate good habits and break unwanted ones. And like a lot of people I’ve often thought that my willpower just sucked. Nowadays though I don’t really subscribe to that idea. I came to this conclusion after a lot of reading about how the brain works and how other people approach habit formation. It’s not my character failing me, but it is my brain’s default behaviour that means habits are hard to make and break. Armed with this idea and a few favourite books I’ve been planning something of a personal overhaul.
The older I have become the more concerned I am that if I don’t address areas of my life that have ‘fallen through the gaps’ in the course of everyday living, the less likely I will be to spend my precious energy on them at all. This is the ‘I’ve had one cupcake already so the damage is already done’ or the ‘I’m too old to change now’ approach to life. Neither of which I want to indulge in.
I’ve been paring back on a few life-energy grabbing areas and activities in preparation for this rearrangement of priorities. Even as I do so, I feel a modicum of guilt about it. I love the things that are now drifting into the distance and the people I’ve been doing them with. But it’s time to move on and put me and other areas of life closer to the top of my priority list. So something has to go.
There, that’s the salve to my conscience about leaving others to do some hard, often underappreciated hard work on behalf of an entire community.
Step One is under way:- Create space by decluttering my time & attention.
The next step, after beginning a re-read of Better than Before and reminding myself of a couple of basics, is to start with some foundations. The one that I am currently focusing on is Monitoring.
Have you ever wondered why groups like Weight Watchers have you record what passes into your mouth? It’s because of Monitoring. If you record it, you have to face the choice you are about to make. There is no hiding or ‘forgetting’. It gives you a chance to pause before proceeding. A cooling off period, albeit a short one, that allows you an opportunity to override a possible emotional response with a more considered decision.
In conjunction with monitoring acting as a brake on poor decision-making, it can also provide you with a picture of your behaviour that you were completely unconscious of. That’s why recording and analysing your spending is a great way to get a handle on all those ‘small’, ‘inconsequential’ purchases that over time add up to a horrible looking credit card bill and awful debt spiral.
In short, Monitoring acts both to inform you of and curtail impulsive and automatic behaviours.
I have always used varying forms of monitoring because I like numbers, statistics and benchmarking. It’s my personality – don’t judge! But usually, the monitoring is for a short-term and with information gathering as its key purpose. This time I intend to use it to reinforce changes I want to make, as well as stimulate more positive choices.
I already have a regular monitoring practice set up for my morning routine in my bullet journal – a monthly habit tracker spread.
Not only is this a retrospective on how I’ve been doing with keeping to my intended habits, it’s also an encouragement to follow through. Four Tendency Alert: Obliger in the house.
I know I will be faced with recording my actions each day and the tracker gives me a visual ‘break the chain’ model, which was supposedly conceived by Jerry Seinfield.
I have recently added a Sleep Log to my Monitoring system because I wanted to see just how bad my sleep routine was getting, but at the moment it is just based on an approximation of when I am likely to have fallen asleep as well as the time when I wake up and check the clock. I’m hoping to improve this approximation with an activity tracker in the near future. As I’m sure we all know now, good quality and length of sleep is a rather large box to check on the health front, so I want to see what I can do to make an improvement in this aspect of my life.
The other biggie on my hitlist is the twins of healthy eating and exercise. Due to injury and innumerable well thought out excuses, I have let both of these areas slack off and drop through the gaps of my daily life. September is the start of me chipping away at both of these. I have booked an appointment with a personal trainer as part of my aim to build accountability into my effort to change these habits, and I have begun to log what passes my lips. I’ve always had an exercise line on my habit tracker, but usually, it’s been the sole uncoloured line.
At this point, starting out, I don’t know if I will be successful in changing the key areas that impact most on my health and wellbeing, but I am going to try. I will use my better understanding of myself and the habit reinforcing techniques I’ll write about here to improve my chances.
If you’re working through a habit change I’d love to hear how you approached it and how it is going.
Thanks for reading.