Break your habits. And no, not only your bad ones.
We have habits, both good and bad. They keep our lives stable, they keep us healthy, and they keep us functioning as a member of society (tipping your waiter, using manners, etc). We know we have some bad ones…binging on candy, smoking, not exercising…that we need to break. But why break our good ones?
Because *drumroll* it’s even better for you to break your habits than keep them.
Before I get really into this let me say this: breaking a habit does not have to mean abandoning it. Generally, when we talk about habits we talk we tend to connote that it’s something we have done our entire life. Which isn’t necessarily true. A habit is something that we do regularly and that can be hard to give up. Check out Merriam-Webster...my all-time favorite place.
The reason why I haven’t chosen the word “routine” is because I want this to be difficult. Just like today’s power yoga, I want you to look at things in your life that have become habit that will be hard to break for even one day.
Smoking is a bad habit…but so is eating candy. Going for a run every morning is a good habit, but so is having afternoon tea. Eventually, the more we break things apart into good and bad we get stuck in a gray area. Look at this. Drinking excessively is a bad habit. Not drinking at all is a good habit. Okay…well what about drinking every Friday night for your favorite show? Is that good or bad? There’s not really a good answer here, is there?
Right. This is why I want you to try and break a habit every day for a week. Both good habits and bad habits can stand an interruption.
We like to focus on breaking our bad habits because it makes us feel good. Sure, at the time it might feel awful. It might even make you feel like you’re going crazy but afterward, we feel great. And this is in part because bad habits are “easy” to break. I don’t mean in terms of effort. I mean in their simplicity. We do something “bad” we know we shouldn’t (for various reasons), we work to stop, we stop, we’ve accomplished something and moved on. No extra thought required. We don’t have to think about why we started. We don’t have to think about why we kept going. We don’t even have to think about why we are stopping or how the break benefits us.
But when we consciously decide to try and break a good habit, or even one that just isn’t considered “bad”, we run into all sorts of issues.
Why am I doing this? What am I feeling? How am I reliant on this habit? Is my relationship with this habit healthy or have I become stuck in my ways? Is this something I need or something I enjoy? What happened when I stopped? Do I want to continue with this?
These are all valid questions that might pop up. Let’s take yoga for example. You do 20 minutes of yoga every single day. It’s a habit. So change it, but don’t cut it out. Try to do 40 minutes every day, or a more intense 30-minute practice. What happens? Is it impossible to push yourself through? Have you gotten accustomed to just twenty minutes of that exercise?
How about running? You always stop for a quick walking break at 3 miles or two miles or even one. Then, each mile, you stop for another quick break. That’s a habit. Try running through that mile marker and note how you feel. Is it suddenly impossible? Does your body react negatively or is your mind reacting negatively?
How about lunch? You eat generally the same lunch every day. Now today, you make something completely new. What happens? Do you hate it? Is there a needed adjustment period?
That’s what I’m getting at.
When we try something new, whether it’s adding something into our routine or taking something out, there’s a moment where we wobble and try to find our balance. That’s what we should be aiming for!
We need to challenge ourselves, the rigidity of our minds.
This is something we don’t like to do and there are so many different ways to do it. But it’s uncomfortable. It’s work. It’s not easy and it creates friction in our bodies and minds. However, we need to keep challenging ourselves. I might be weird, but I think it’s fun to challenge my habits like this.
For instance, I always drive to the place I train in Aikido. Well, now I’ve decided to bike. It certainly mixes things up and boy does it give me a fresh perspective. I always run a similar route. Well, now I’m running the same route in reverse or randomly. I’m hitting the same streets but out of order or backwards. It forces my mind into perceiving things differently. Which is amazing!
This goes along with the idea that we should do things that scare us. That’s another story. But look at this dartboard. In high school, I attended a leadership seminar and this story stuck with so bear with me.
There are three circles. The inner-most circle (where the dart is) is where we are most comfortable. Everything is normal, easy, and unchanged. The outer-most circle is where everything is challenging to a degree where it is unmanageable. There is no routine or stability here. But the band between the two, is where there are challenges and some stability. We aren’t necessarily comfortable, but we definitely aren’t chaotic either.
What does this mean for us? It means we don’t need to change everything at once. It means we shouldn’t change everything at once. This is why I suggest that we take one habit every day for a week, or one habit every week for a month. Bite-sized pieces that we won’t choke on but not mashed up food.
I also encourage you to start small. 40 minutes of power yoga instead of 20 minutes of regular yoga. Running 1.5 miles without stopping instead of one. Swapping coffee for tea for one day.
Breaking apart our habits is important because it begins to teach us where we are stuck, where we can challenge ourselves, and what in our lives actually helps us out versus what hinders us.
As you try this little challenge, think about why your habits exist, what drives you to keep them in your life. Look at those habits and wonder how you can use them to bring you out of your comfort zone. How can you use habits as a way to get you moving instead of settling?