Habits. We live and die by them. It is unfortunate that the term ‘creatures of habit’ is so widely used that the power of the phrase often escapes us. For those words do an excellent job at nailing down the core of what makes us or breaks us.
Being in the habit of exercising for ten minutes every morning gives so many health benefits that I could spend the rest of this article telling you statistics on how much longer you’ll live, how much more sex you will have, and how improved your life will be. Likewise, being in the habit of eating junk food for lunch every day does just the opposite, and those same statistics exist in droves as well. Change your habits, and you can make your life better or worse. Embed those habits in your brain, and you will make your life better or worse without even trying.
I’ve spent the past couple weeks attempting to identify habits that I have fallen into over the past year. I’ve had a lot of changes in my life, so I’ve had the opportunity to improve my habits, but I did not make a conscious effort to do so, and I’m sure I didn’t just accidentally start behaving better either. Here are three things I’ve noticed that I think are negatively affecting my life:
– I’m not eating as well as I want to. My company gives us free lunch every day, which is awesome, and when I started working there, I was careful to follow Tim Ferriss’s Slow Carb diet as closely as I could. I ate proteins and vegetables exclusively, and on meals where this was not possible (pasta in particular) I would go to a nearby mexican or hibachi restaurant and get meat and vegetables there. Over time this turned into just a bit of macaroni and cheese when they catered BBQ, and lately I had a full plate of pasta. Almost certainly as a result, I feel more sluggish in the afternoon than I did, and I’m drinking more coffee than I used to. This doesn’t worry me in particular, as I think coffee is great, but it’s a change made because I’ve slacked in my diet.
– I’m not strict about going to bed at a particular time. I just stayed up until 2am binge watching House of Cards, which isn’t bad per se, but I’m a light sleeper, and I knew I would be awake by 7:30 the next morning regardless of when I went to sleep. I was, and now I’m much more worn out than I should be. A year ago I was more strict about bedtime, though part of that may be because I was living in Chicago, where the cold winters often drove me under the sheets out of necessity. Still, it’s a change, and I’m sure I’ll run into an article in the next week or two describing how I’m less healthy because I don’t get regular sleep.
– I’m working through lunch. This sets off major alarm bells in my head every time I do it, and yet I still do it. Not taking regular breaks from sitting at a computer causes all kinds of long term problems (another easy to google topic) and yet I still do it. Worse yet, I KNOW it’s a problem, and I STILL do it. I often get extremely burned out by the end of the day when I do this, and I’m too tired when I get home to spend as much quality time with my wife as I want to. This is affecting both her and me, and that needs to change.
I’m going to make changes in all three of these areas, but I want the changes to stick. I want to turn these bad habits into better habits, and not just feel inspired for a week and then slide back into mediocrity. This involves changing behavior, a topic that Stanford professor BJ Fogg has researched extensively in his career. The gist of his model is to make changes tiny, so tiny that they’re trivial to complete. This gets you into the habit of doing them daily because they’re so easy, and then once they’re imprinted in your head, you can expand on them. It’s a model that feels pretty natural to me, and I’m going to do it.
For me, that means one tiny change. I think the biggest effect I’ll see is if I make sure to get up at lunch and not work through it. To make this as trivial as possible, I will ensure I’m up from my computer for five minutes at lunch. This is ridiculously easy, and I really want to say something like 30 minutes, but I’m keeping it so easy that I can’t possibly forget or “not have time”. It takes about 5 minutes to walk around my building, and so maybe I’ll do that – walk around the building once at lunch time every day.
What are your habits? Is there anything you know is holding you back? Something that is affecting the quality of your work or your life or your time with friends and family? Better yet – can you think of a trivially easy step to take to start building a habit to change it? If so, I encourage you to comment on this post and tell me about it. I’ll hold you accountable though, so make sure it’s a small enough step that you’re guaranteed to stick with it!