Welcome! January is MY FAVORITE time of the year. I love all of the looking back and assessing. I love the renewal of commitments. I love the Fresh Start Feeling of it all. As a mom of 8 kids, I NEED January!
In the last two posts I shared with you how I’d like to Create a Beautiful Family Culture this year. But even as I have had great resolutions, in the past year, life sort of got in the way and I forgot about all of my Plans for Improvement. I knew I had to do something differently if I really wanted to make lasting changes. So I dove into The One Little Thing that can Create the Biggest Change in our Lives and that one little thing is HABITS.
Now, before I delve in this post on how to use habits to design your life, let me ask you a question: What do you think of when you see the word HABIT?
I have always thought of habits as those odd little things we do without even thinking. We chew our finger nails. We arrive late to parties. It’s just “our way.”
In the last post I mentioned that I knew, if I wanted to create lasting change, I’d have to have some different input.
So I read “Atomic Habits” by James Clear and he taught me a lot about habits, why we form them and their purpose in our lives. The short version: every day of our lives, we encounter new situations. Our brain works to solve problems and stresses we face. Those solutions are actually habits. And as our brain creates a habit, our brain can work on other things.
Habits FREE UP the brain! That’s why they are so useful.
Our brain is also keyed into reward. If something feels good or changes our state, the brain creates a mental rule: If this, then that. One weird example: I used to have a business where I was on the phone a lot. Some of the conversation were stressful, some of them were long. How I handled that: I would go into the pantry and seek a snack. Yes, I’d mute the phone while I ate, but food made a tense or boring conversation easier to handle.
Guess what happened? Over the course of time, whenever I got on the phone, even if it was to talk to a gloriously fun and animated friend, I would be in the pantry pounding snacks. Isn’t that funny? But that’s how the brain works. It was still applying the original “if this, then that” rule.
Habit formation is how the brain handles all of the stimuli we face on a daily basis. Since it can handle only one problem at a time, once a solution is found, the conscious brain allows the unconscious brain to automatically take over that particular situation.
ISN’T THAT FASCINATING?
Here I used to think habits were boring and sort of useless, used by those individuals that never chewed their fingernails and were always on time for parties! It was meaningful for me to learn that habits don’t actually hamper freedom, they create it. Wowsa.
James Clear states that a habit can be divided into four steps: cue, craving, response and reward. (Charles Duhigg also wrote about these in his book, "The Power of Habit.") Those four steps are the foundation of every habit.
It’s crazy to think about, but your brain actually runs through these four steps in the same order every time. Why is everything based on reward? Well, in a nutshell, it’s how we are wired. Take my little phone issue. Whenever I was on the phone, I would be in a tense place; I wanted to feel better. So what happened? Well, the phone became a cue. It led to a craving. I responded by walking into the pantry and finding my reward.
This system is continually working without us even realizing it! You want to go for a run. You see the remote control on the couch. Your brain unconsciously recalls all of the ways stress has been relieved while chilling with the telly. You sit down to watch.
Interestingly, TV viewing (for many of us!) is a CUE for popcorn (or mindless eating of snacks!). Four hours later...
The CUES become invisible. Our response to those cues is just how we do life. I’ll give you another example. Many years ago, I went out with my friend Judy to supper. We ordered steaks. As we were talking I reached over and began cutting up her steak for her. My friend looked at me and said, “Lori. I can do that myself.”
I was shocked! But can you see how habits form? At that time of my life, I had several children that needed their meat cut up for them and without even thinking, a STEAK was a cue for me.
Judy’s comment made me aware of what I was doing. In the same way, to truly change behavior, we have to become AWARE of what we are doing.
How does all of this relate to creating a beautiful family culture? Well, in the next several posts I will apply this to FAMILY LIFE but today, I want to focus on you.
You and I have quirky little ways that we “do” life. Not all of those ways are positive but we keep doing them because of this underground automation thing going on.
The first step towards change is to become aware of your own behavior. How to do this? Well, it’s kind of simple and amazingly revealing: Write out your daily habits. Here’s a partial list from when I did this activity last month:
Now think about each habit on your list. If it is a neutral habit, leave it it alone. If it's a positive habit, meaning it is serving you/helping you reach your fullest potential, leave it alone.
Hone in on the negative habits, the time-wasting habits, the things you do that take away from you. This is what I could clearly see when I wrote down how I spent my morning:
I am 52 years old. It was kind of embarrassing to see that I had such gaps in my daily routine. I also wondered why I planned to do some things (like exercising) but didn't actually ACCOMPLISH the task as often as I wanted. Was there a deeper reason?
James Clear, my new best friend, did not shame me for my lack of skill in this arena. He simply taught me something useful: if I truly want to get certain tasks accomplished in my life, I need to FORMULATE a plan for WHEN and WHERE I will do the task.
It's called IMPLEMENTATION INTENTION. When you make a plan to do something with the "when" and "where" spelled out, you have a much greater chance of doing that. Why? Because the two most common cues that trigger our habits: time and location.
I designed my week:
I encourage you to do the same. This simple activity brought a sense of peace to my life, which is VITAL to us mamas!
As I looked at my list, I thought of my negative habits: I ignored simple tasks like making my bed and cleaning up the bathroom counter. I didn't have a specific time for prayer in my daily.
James Clear taught me how to use existing habits to form new habits. It's called "Stacking Habits" and I love this so much. I am smiling like a banshee.
If you leave some things undone, simply identify a current habit you do each day and then “stack” the behavior you want to do with it.
I did not make my bed. So I stacked that with something I DID every day:
THESE TWO TECHNIQUES HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE.
I no longer feel like a drifter. In a day or two, I kid you not, I was easily making my bed and cleaning up the bathroom counter. I prayed the rosary whenever I got in my vehicle. I didn’t have to think about it. Now that I have used "time and location," my weeks are FLOWING with a nice rhythm.
What I have learned: habits are my best friend. And I can use habits to DESIGN a better, more useful life!
Mama, let's talk about you. As the heart of your home, you are vital to the ebb and flow.
On Thursday we'll look at habits and the FAMILY.
P.S. If part of your "daily routine" is trying to stay away from certain foods or berating yourself when you succumb to unwanted eating, check out my new course, "Inside Out." I delve into food addiction tendencies and how understanding and accepting your eternal identity can bring back a sense of sanity.
We will begin promoting this unique course next week. (Psst. It's currently at a lowered price since we have not officially launched.)
Find out more here: Inside Out.