What's for keeps? - Michelle Gibbings

In recent times, many of us have had a forced shift to our routines.  While that has been disruptive, there’s also been positives.

In my household, we are cooking more, Barney (the pooch) is getting longer walks, Craig and I are exercising more, and I am getting through more reading.  All positives.  Of course, it’s all easier at the moment as I’m not on a plane every week or spending time commuting.

The challenge is how to hold on to these positive new routines when the pace of life picks up. Ultimately, it’s a choice, and what helps is to make that choice deliberately and then create habits so the choice sticks.

Academic researchers, Bas Verplanken (University of Bath) and Wendy Wood (Duke University) found that more than 40% of the actions people performed each day weren’t decisions, but habits.

Consequently, much of our behaviour is automatic and carried out almost unconsciously.

Habits are built over time and operate like an energy-saving device for the brain.  When something becomes a habit, we don’t need to spend time debating or thinking about it.  We just do it.  So if you want to keep doing something, it helps to have that action embedded as a habit.

This process of habit formation starts by getting deliberate.

Firstly, ask yourself: what routines have you started over this period that you enjoy? Write these down and reflect on why this is important to you.  Think about why you have enjoyed it, the benefit you are gaining and why you want it to continue.  Making it matter to you is a critical part of habit formation.

Then consider the cues you can use to remind you to do that activity.  It might be a note on the bathroom wall, a reminder in your calendar or putting your running shoes beside your bed.

Having a reminder process is essential too.  Verplanken and Wood found that “Successful habit change interventions involve disrupting the environmental factors that automatically cue habit performance”.

Next, build the process that you will follow.  For example, if your desired habit is to meditate every morning, your steps may be to get up, put the kettle on and meditate while the kettle is boiling. Having a routine that you follow helps to embed the pattern of activity in your brain.

It can help to commit to your changes publicly because it’s much harder to renege when you’ve told other people you are going to do it.  You may also want to find a buddy or partner that can help encourage you to continue your new routines.

As well, consider having a wall-chart or a way of recording your progress.  We get motivated when we see we are progressing.  It can be as simple as having the chart on your fridge, and you tick off each day when you have completed that task.

Lastly, celebrate and reward yourself for your progress.

English novelist, Charles Reade, once remarked: “Sow a thought, and you reap an action; sow an action, and you reap a habit; sow a habit, and you reap a character; sow a character, and you reap a destiny”.

That’s some big words to live up to, but the good news is that it all starts by just putting one step in front of the other.

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