I find myself musing more and more on the concept of healthy choices and behaviors, and why we, as logical beings, would choose to do a behavior that is unhealthy or detrimental to our health. It is so easy to give advice to patients about ways they can improve their lives, but so difficult to see that advice followed through to fruition—with myself, my family, and my patients. The answer is obvious, and has been discussed by the greats (Lincoln, Franklin, Socrates, etc.) for centuries. The reason for behaviors we do not choose is simply that of habit. Habit that is so engrained in us that we act from the subconscious, as opposed to following our reasoning and knowledge. We know that we should eat vegetables more and dessert less. We know that we should drink more water and less alcohol. We KNOW that we should de-stress and enjoy life…yet we make decisions that are ultimately detrimental toward that goal of well-being and health. It is a frustrating process to say the least, but with awareness, willingness, and a little bit of faith, it can be overcome.
In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin writes of his own struggles to overcome habits he did not want and to exemplify virtues he admired. He says,
While my care was employed in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct.
Now if arguably one of the most productive members of society, not to mention a Founding Father, struggled with overcoming habits, you can imagine why it is so difficult for the rest of us. Luckily, as part of his legacy, he provided advice on how he overcame his habits, and it is the same advice I provide to my patients. And it begins with awareness.
I compiled 5 Steps that walks you through developing healthy habits and walking away from habits that no longer serve you.
Step 1: Keep a journal or daily log, checking in with yourself daily, and really becoming aware of your actions. If you are not aware of your habits, you can’t change them.
Step 2: The next step requires some soul searching. Start asking yourself the tough questions of “WHY do I do this, WHAT am I feeling?”, and not allowing yourself off the hook with simple, average answers. Really ask yourself and allow the space for honesty. That sounds strange, but it is amazing how much time we spend not being truthful with ourselves. There needs to be a suspension of judgement to make this space. It does not matter if the answers you discover within yourself make any sense, and there is no point in judging yourself for beliefs and thoughts that you probably picked up as a child—long before the reasoning mind took over. This step is not about blame, shame, or regret; it is simply knowing from where you are starting the journey.
Step 3: Make a list of goals. For example, I have a goal to always have a clean house.
Step 4: Make a list of action steps for those goals. If having a clean house is my goal, than I need to dust regularly, vacuum almost daily, and have organization for the clutter. So action steps for this example is every morning before I leave the house, dedicate 15 minutes to picking things up, emptying the dishwasher, running a quick vacuum, etc. The point is to delve into the goal and pick it apart into doable, realistic action steps to allow the goal to become possible.
Step 5: Resolve. Create a resolution with yourself that you will implement these action steps daily. Every fiber of your being will fight you to return to the comfortable patterns of your past. You must resolve to keep that from happening. That means following step 1 daily. Check in with yourself daily to make sure you have not fallen back asleep, unaware of your actions and motives. Eventually the new habit will be ingrained and work on autopilot. But until that day, the key to your salvation is daily reflection and self-honesty.
I hope this list helps you. I know, it is not the magic bullet you were probably hoping for–but I think it is even better. Self reflection leads to greater self worth and sense of purpose. Life is not just about what is good vs. bad, it is about experiencing the fullness God gifted us. If you would like help with a habit that no longer serves you, or just to experience the fullness of overall wellness, call my office today to see if I can help.