getting OUT of the habit…

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

~ Aristotle

Ah, Sunday. The one day of the week specifically intended to be a day of rest in a world that seems to be consumed with non-stop action.

Chances are you went to church this morning, or had brunch with the family, or watched five back-to-back episodes of Corrie Street on the CBC (guilty)… and even though there’s an even greater chance those are the Sunday traditions you’ve built over weeks or even years, there’s an even greater chance you do them out of habit.

I first had an inkling of the battle between habit and tradition this past September, as we started planning our big year-end event at work, which happens every July. As we put our presentation together, the team agreed on one core belief – habit (how we do things) vs. tradition (what we did) was the main concept on which we would facilitate change. Guess what… it worked!

Coincidentally, a short time later I heard about a book by Charles Duhigg entitled The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. In it, he talks about a habit as being a simple neurological loop that consists of a cue (my mouth feels gross), a routine (hello toothpaste), and a reward (ahhh, minty fresh).

It can best be described in this simple illustration, courtesy of theemotionmachine.com.

the_habit_loop

Duhigg writes that understanding this loop is the key to exercising regularly or becoming more productive at work or tapping into reserves of creativity. In fact, marketers are learning how to exploit these loops to boost sales (there’s a fascinating story about how Febreeze came from the brink of bankruptcy to be the success it is today), while CEOs and coaches are using them to change how employees work and athletes compete. Essentially tweaking a habit, as long as it’s the right one, can have staggering effects.

It might sound like a lot of work, but it’s not – it just takes consistent practice. For a helpful example, check out how theemotionmachine.com breaks down how you can replace old (possibly bad) habits with new (more effective and healthy) ones in a comprehensive, three-step process.

After reading the book, I got to thinking about my own habits. Over the past year, I’ve lost 20 pounds. Did I do it by crash dieting or cutting out foods (hello pasta!) I loved? No. I simply started walking every day. Eventually, that walking became a regular routine of 30-45 minutes a day, three times a week.

Now, every day at work and two minutes before the start of break or lunchtime, I put on my running shoes and change into my T-shirt and head to the warehouse for my daily walks. It has become a healthy routine and I genuinely miss it when I’m so busy I can’t fit them into daily schedule.

In the same breath, I still indulge from time to time (my favourites are iced capps with white milk, rice pudding from Lazar bakery and Turtles, just in case you were wondering), but not every day. I also use a fantastic app called myfitnesspal. I’ve gotten in the habit of tracking my calories and cardiovascular activity on a daily basis… allowing for little leeway on the weekends, of course.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that the key in trying to replace a habit (we’re talking more behavioural here) is to take stock of a situation before it happens. Picture it, you’re at your desk, paperwork piling up, email ringtones blinging away, you’re in the middle of doing a task that requires concentration, when a co-worker knocks on your door to ask you a question.

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Do you get frustrated and snap at that person or do you take a moment – and a breath – and turn to them with a warm, inviting smile?

If you’re like me, chances are you’d react more in line with the first description – anxiety and frustration. Can’t they see I’m busy? You might roll your eyes or get frustrated, making the other person feel sorry to have disturbed you, and fearful to take the chance again. But I’m working on it and, I tell you, while it’s mindful work, it’s setting me up for a positive change.

Now when I find myself in the middle of a creative flow (you writers know what I’m talking about) and I get interrupted, I try to take a deep breath before turning around the respond. It allows me to calm myself, refocus and give the person awaiting my response my full, and pleasant, attention. After all, isn’t that what I’d expect when I go knocking on someone’s door for help?

Now I’d caution a bet that since it’s Sunday, you’re already dreading your Monday morning – the start of the workweek, the answering of voicemails and emails, another five days of the same routine.

So since the focus of this blog post is about altering your habits, I challenge you to do that today. Instead of worrying away your Sunday on what’s to come tomorrow, why not go see a movie, take a drive or go to the park with the kids (it’s the first nice, sunny day in a long time – take advantage!)? Or, as my hubby and I are doing, ditch the cooking at home and enjoy an out-of-the-mill Sunday night dinner. It will take your mind off what’s to come Monday morning and, bonus, you’ll have some fun.

Who knows, you might even make a habit of it.

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