In With The New Year and Out With The Bad Habits

Every year, billions of people swear they’re going to make some changes this time. Typically, these resolutions are in regards to wealth, health and happiness, but why wait until January 1st and forget about it by January 31st? Good habits can happen anytime, but they come neither easily nor quickly.
I wrote two columns a few weeks back on habits and perception which highlighted the issue that people are not always cognizant of either. When people aren’t aware of the ‘how and why’ of their habits and perceptions, they can often find themselves in places with no recollection as to how they got there.
Habits are subject to perceptions and perceptions are subject to previous habits. The two form a cycle from which neither can be removed. You can see the conundrum here. How does one know which habits they’ve chosen versus which habits they’ve imposed upon themselves unknowingly?
Since habits can be good and bad, it is as important to accumulate good habits as it is to eliminate bad habits. Practicing first the discipline of honest awareness and observation of one’s current habits is probably a better way to start off the New Year than reaching for goals that are foundationless.
Taking the time to discover what habits are impeding one’s life and developing a plan for removing them is as important as adding new resolutions. It’s also possible that removing some bad habits is better than covering them up with good intentions. Either way, patience is needed with these changes.
It takes time and effort to observe, distinguish, eliminate and/or add habits. Although popular wisdom states that it takes ‘21 days to make a habit and 7 days to break it’, popular wisdom is often just that-popular. According to a study on habits, it takes an average of 66 days.
When analyzing one’s habits, one must consider 3 components: cue, routine and reward. If every time someone is stressed (cue) they reach for something sweet (reward) to make themselves feel better, this becomes a routine and therefore a habit.
Typically, when one removes the sweets, for example, another reward will simply take its place. Without understanding the root cause of a stressor, changing the reward will not break the cycle. Tracking down the cause, creating and practicing a new routine and finding a healthy reward is a more effective way to break the cycle of a bad habit.
The study of martial arts excels at breaking down and understanding habits. What if an attack/stressor ‘X’ comes into one’s space? We study the cue (stressor, attack, verbal assault), we come up with an effective routine (de-escalate, evade, block, intelligent retort) and we provide the most addicting award that actually burns calories – the feeling of satisfaction moving through the body, engaging the mind and successfully problem solving at a high rate of speed. This is the type of instant gratification I can endorse.
When we deal with the reality of a habit, we have a better handle on how it can affect us over the long term. Allowing the stress to build up and ignoring the ‘cue’ that continues a bad habit can be unhealthy. Imagine what would happened over a decade of one’s life filled with eating sweets as the only answer to reducing stress.
Don’t stress yourself out this New Year by putting more unrealistic demands on your plate. Take the time to become aware of your habits; take the time to organize them by separating the bad from the good; take the time to discipline yourself to remove the bad ones. In the end, you might find greater relief in just lightening your load.

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