Little by little, I built my week up to consist of exercising 5 times, maintaining a healthy diet, reading at least half a book, and publishing a blog. I consider the routine to be reasonably productive because all of it was on top of a demanding and challenging full-time job. But something happened in the last 6 months. I lost the same routine that I struggled to build. Ironically, when everyone begins the new year with a fresh start mindset, I seem to have gone backwards. Despite making a system of accountability partners and following a plan of practice to have a good habit, the question that confounds me is how did I fall back?
This blog is a quest to answer why habits die and how to rekindle them.
The death of my habit
My habits died because of the ease of getting distracted and the challenge of making everyday decisions. The distractions are every habit’s demons, which were fairly instilled because of peer pressure. With summer (and no more covid-related restrictions), options of things to do seem to be at a new high. That naturally caused difficulty in deciding what needed to be done.
A study shows that an average person consumes roughly 37GB of data daily. Amid the information overload we get, it gets more challenging to make the right decisions and stick with them. So what happened to me was that my mind began to make trade-offs. Hence, even if I started the proper habit, I couldn’t stick to seeing it completed and done.
I began reasoning the shortcuts I took. E.g. after 40-min into the workout that I would typically take 1 hour to do, I would justify that 40-min is more than enough. And happily (and with no shame) skip the last 20 min. And what was shocking was that this was not a one-off. The pattern emerged with sleep and food habits, giving me a good wake-up call.
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says that habits are either formed based on ambition (e.g. you desire to be fitter) or identity (e.g. you write an article every day because you are a journalist). The integrity of sticking to the habits is entirely based on our internal narrative of why we need the habit in our life.
Re-kindling the habits
“The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us,”Mary Oliver
And our ability to maintain the controlling factors depends on the feedback and the outcome we get for every sensible decision we make daily. Because of innate change in us to expect instant gratification, we are beginning to make wrong decisions. A realisation dawned on me. An excellent litmus test we can use is the cost/benefit return for every decision we make. If the cost is immediate but the benefit is delayed, you could generally say that you should do it. A classic example is taking the stairs rather than the lift. And the vice versa scenario is something we must avoid, the classic let’s have the extra pint.
And it is incredibly challenging to be mindful to this extent of every single decision we would make. Therefore the best help I can give myself is to spend a good deal of time designing my surroundings that would be conducive for me to make more mindful decisions without putting in a lot of effort in the decision process.
A little Cheat Sheet
I decided to make myself a little cheat sheet to follow, and I will test it to see if it will help me rekindle the habit.
- Movement precedes motivation. Whenever I lack the motivation to get out of bed or go to the gym, I stop thinking and just get on it.
- Overestimate what we do in a day and underestimate what we do in a week. I will begin using a weekly to-do list instead of a daily one. That would allow me to give myself the freedom to work within a week and avoid feeling stressed about having to do the task on the same day.
- The three non-negotiables for my diet. Although they are small steps, it is much easier to begin with rather than having to learn the intricacies of following a specific diet.
- Chew 20 times
- No food free 7:30
- If you want to snack, eat fruit.
- Measure. You can’t manage what you can measure. An app called Forest has proven helpful for me to look at the distribution of time I have for the different activities I do in a week.
- Hide things away. Out of sight, out of mind right? It is best to take an extra two minutes to hide away things I don’t want to engage with. I have hidden the cereal box for a start. Although I know where it sits, it will be a bit of an effort to get it. And I hope that over time I will phase out of craving to eat cereal.
The environment I am going to be in will play a great deal in how effectively I stick to my habits. And with a little cheat sheet, I will make the little improvements that will compound in the future.
I would love to hear from you if you have faced such dilemmas before. And if so, what did you do to overcome them. More importantly, how did you rekindle a lost habit?