People are funny. Most of us are creatures of habit. We follow the same routine every morning. We sleep on the same side of the bed. We even drink our tea or coffee from the same cup.
Habits can be a great way of increasing our productivity by reducing the time we may otherwise spend on decision making (like Steve Jobs and his famous ‘uniform’ of jeans and a black turtleneck). But they can also mean that we unthinkingly keep repeating thoughts, behaviours or decisions that no longer serve us.
Eating bacon for breakfast every morning even though you’ve been diagnosed with high cholestrol is an obvious example of a harmful habit. Less obvious is going to your mother-in-law for supper every week, even though you find her very trying, because you are worried about hurting her or your spouse’s feelings.
Habits are cumulative. We tend to add new ones rather replacing old ones. Unless we do a regular Spring Clean, our lives become so full that we cannot fit anything else in – no matter how good for us it may be. We need to put some things down so that we can pick ourselves (and other, better things) up. We need to declutter and make space for new and better things to come into our lives.
What to put down:
Identify the actions, patterns of behaviour and thoughts, beliefs or expectations that you are habitual, but not helpful or enjoyable.
Example of a habitual action:
Participating in the same bookclub (or any kind of club) that you no longer enjoy or find stimulating.
Example of a pattern of behavior:
Eating mindlessly in front of the TV.
Example of a habitual thoughts or beliefs:
“Gym is the only way to lose weight.”
Examples of habitual expectations:
“I’ll never find love.”
“Work isn’t meant to be enjoyable.”
“All women/men are liars.”
Ask yourself some questions about your habits:
- Is this still needed or wanted?
- Is this still serving me?
- Am I still getting good use out of this?
- How would I feel if I were to put this down?
- Do I still have to do this?
- Is this mine to do or am I in someone else’s business?
- Can someone else do this for me?
Think less, feel more When evaluating your habits and patterns of behaviour to see where and what you can update, replace or discard, how do you decide?
I often advise my clients to “Think Less and Feel More” when confronted with decisions. It can be hard to get clear on what to put down by consciously thinking about it.
Our bodies, however, always tell us the truth. You know how you feel sick and shaky when you are about to do something you don’t like doing, or see someone you don’t trust? Or how you feel weak and exhausted when you’ve just spent time with someone who doesn’t take care of you? Those are all examples of your body speaking to you and asking you to tell yourself the truth. Martha Beck calls this the Body Compass and it is a wonderful tool to help you navigate your way through life. Check in with your Body Compass to help you decide if you should discard or preserve each habit.
When you have identified the habits that are no longer serving and pleasing you, you can choose to put them down. You can resign from bookclub, decide to stop eating kale, cancel your gym membership… you will be amazed at how much time, energy and, often, money you will have to pick up new habits and activities. Just make sure that what you pick up doesn’t weigh you down even more!
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of 1Life or its employees.