The Power of Habit

Habits, we all have them.  They come in all different shapes and sizes; and range from good, bad and everywhere in between.  As January comes to a close, and we move into February, let’s take a closer look at old habits, as well as the introduction of new habits over the past 31 days of 2015!

I am a creature of bad habit I suppose.  I come up with so many ideas for new things I want to incorporate into my day-to-day, and more times than not I do not succeed.  I quickly fall back into old habits, which include watching too much tv, eating junk, skipping the gym, putting off updating my resume, etc.  My intentions are good in the moment, so what gives?  Why do I constantly fail?  Do I set myself up for failure?

I recently read an article (Why Do We Have Bad Habits) that suggested we use “bad habits” similar to the way addicts use drugs.  It is suggested that these “bad habits” relieve our stress and provide us with an escape from reality.  When looking at the amount of television I watch when I could be reading, working on my blog, or focusing on my career this makes sense.  The same could be said about poor eating habits.  Isn’t it a much greater escape to indulge in brownies than to choose the healthy alternative?

The article goes on to explain that we engage in such habits because the reality of our lives is so unbearable.  I do not agree that all “bad habits” suggest are lives are miserable.  For instance, if I were a chronic nail bitter I would understand that this behavior may help relieve my anxiety.  This is not necessarily a healthy coping skill, but I do not believe it means life is unbearable.  My TV viewing habits doesn’t necessarily mean my life sucks either.  I work a stressful, mentally draining job as a therapist – escaping to the fantasy landscape of television is my way of unwinding and grounding myself (or perhaps I am justifying my unhealthy behavior).  Taking this article at face value, I was able to uncover my own take away message:  “All behavior serves a purpose”.

I will admit that my television watching does serve a purpose.  Watching TV takes no effort and is completely mindless.  It is an escape that I look forward to after a long day of work.  However I do admit that I have been known to watch way too much TV.  If your DVR is constantly filling up and you continue to take on new Netflix series you have a problem.  Would I consider myself an addict?  Not in the least.  But, it is a behavior I have wanted to change because I believe that there are better uses for my time.  It is easy to justify my television viewing by saying it is a good way to decompress after a long day, but in reality television allows me to procrastinate.  Watching TV allows me to avoid working on my resume to advance my career; avoid reading, avoid household projects, etc.  The keyword here if you haven’t noticed is AVOID, AVOID, AVOID!

So what am I going to about this?  Once we hit 2015 I knew it was time to jump on the resolution band wagon and make some changes.  In an effort to focus on activities other than TV I wanted to increase my engagement in reading; both for pleasure and education.  This has been the most challenging healthy habit to intertwine into my life.  My goal was to shut the TV off an hour earlier and read for 45 minutes to an hour before bed.  For the first week or two of 2015 I was successful and proud of myself.  But here we are in the second month of 2015 and I can’t tell you the last time I have opened a book before bed.  In fact, I am still working on the same book – Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (if you haven’t read it you should).  I don’t consider this a complete failure because I am still finding time to read, just not everyday and not before bed (but I am reading nonetheless).  So let’s label this a work in progress with potential to fail if I don’t reassess the situation.

Now there is one habit that I believe I have successfully incorporated into my life.  Over the past few years I have made it a personal goal to get in better shape.  Each year I have made progress towards this goal.  This year I wanted to up the ante.  I have always admired people who can get up early and squeeze a workout in before going to work.  Not to mention, research shows there to be multiple benefits, both mentally and physically, to working out in the morning.  As of January 2nd I was on a mission to drag my sleepy ass out of bed at 6am and make it to the gym by 630am.  I can proudly say that for the month of January not only did I accomplish this on a consistent basis but I was able to up my gym regimen from 3-4 days per week to 5-6 days per week.

This opens up my evenings to relax and do whatever I want rather than begrudgingly going to the gym.  At first I found myself a little more tired during the day, but now I feel more refreshed and focused.  I find that I am sleeping better at night and more willing to get out of bed when my alarm goes off.  Plus I have definitely seen progress in the my body (keep an eye on a future post about my progress and work out regimen).

In closing, I would like to say that changing habits is hard but not impossible.  If we want to change we have to make a choice to take a chance and see if we achieve a healthier outcome.  In the beginning it is hard, but eventually it becomes second nature.  So perhaps, there is hope for me and my desire to become an avid reader!  I definitely am happier with these changes!

Sound off people with your struggles and successes in changing your habits.  If you have any suggestions for me I am all ears and look forward to what you have to share.

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2 thoughts on “The Power of Habit

  1. Michael P. says:

    Thank you for the comment and appreciation for my post. I am glad you were able to take away some ideas from my post and I hope to hear from you again soon! Please feel free to pass on this post to others 🙂

    I enjoyed the link to your post that you shared with me. I appreciate your honesty and openness! It is refreshing to see someone take such a positive approach to their mental health and breaking the stigma!

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