I’d like to talk about habits.
Habits are great. They are what people who are consistently fit and lean do. And the best bit? You don’t even realise you’re doing them! Because that’s what a habit is – it’s done unconsciously, automatically, without a second thought at all, and is therefore completely effortless.
You’ve heard that ‘diets’ don’t work, and the reason, is lack of habit. Anything new, novel, quirky, strict, regimented or drastically different from which you are already doing is going to require a fair bit of effort on your part. You’re out of your comfort zone, away from the familiar and certainly are a long way from any of these new behaviours becoming habits.
The next problem with ‘diets’ is that they don’t even need to become habits, because they are temporary. They assume – as stated in their marketing blub, and varying depending on the ‘diet’ in question, that either their ‘diet’ will give you the kickstart and motivation you need to continue, or that by following their ‘diet’ new habits will be formed.
But guess what? It doesn’t work! Google it and you’ll find ‘studies’ claiming it takes 21 days, or 30 days, or doing/not doing an action x amount of times etc. etc. for it to become a habit. Rubbish!
Sorry guys, but some habits, in some people, are for life, and you might have to watch your step over little habits for years before they genuinely become unconscious habits.
Your brush your teeth every morning (I hope). That’s a habit. Or is it? I’ve been doing that for over 30 years (I don’t actually know when my first teeth popped through – should ask Mother out of interest), yet every morning it is a conscious decision to walk into the bathroom and execute that action. I know that because on a weekend or in school holidays when I don’t have to jump out of bed and leave the house early, said teeth brushing might not happen until later, proving I did not automatically, sleep-walk-like state, brush my teeth without conscious thought.
Here’s the good news – habits are not all or nothing, black or white. Behaviours can me more, or less consciously done, depending on where they are on the habit scale. And the longer your persist with certain behaviours the more they move up the habit scale, so they are done with less and less thought, and are more and more automatic, and you are less likely to forget, trip, and stumble, and behave in the ‘old way’. Also, you are in a much better place (very likely in fact) to be able to have the odd ‘deviance’, be that a chocolate biscuit, ignoring your workout routine for a week on holiday, or (shock!) not bothering to brush your teeth on night, and yet still go back to your ‘good’ habits straight away after, without one deviance making your scrap well intended plans completely.
So what does this mean for people wanting to eat better/exercise more/be healthier in general?
Keep going. Just keep doing it. If you don’t do it one day, do it the next. Who said your journey or path has to be as straight and smooth as a Roman road? Ok so the Roman’s might have got there quicker, but life is a journey – it’s the journey that counts not just the destination, and sometimes the mistakes you make along the way, the twists and turns, backward steps as well as forward and sideways ones, provide some wonderful scenery and opportunities for learning. Maybe these learning opportunities even put you in a better place eventually anyway – perhaps you’ll stay at your new, healthier destination for life, whereas maybe the Romans got there in double time but came home just as fast as they’d not learnt anything on their journey.
I digress. Sort of.
Two steps forward, one step back. Five steps forward, two steps back. You get there in the end, and every inch, foot, mile you achieve makes the habits move up that habit-ometer (great word huh?!) and they become slightly more subconscious thoughts, decisions and actions. My 16 month old was so reluctant to walk at first, even though we knew she could. She would only do it if encouraged and praised by everyone in the room. She just wouldn’t ‘get started’ by herself. The she did start, did a bit more, fell down, got up, tried again, tripped again, got up……..now she walks everywhere without a second thought, and only reverts back to wanting to be carried when very tired or ill. Walking is becoming a genuine habit for her, but only because she kept going, picking herself up after every trip and going again.
Don’t feel guilty, what a waste of energy. Use every trip as a learning experience, pick yourself up and go again, until you find you’re tripping less and less, even without more thought being put in than previously. What you are witnessing there, when you are tripping less, is at last, the slow but steady formation of a habit.