More About Habits:
I’m sure you all know how much I like the book, “Atomic Habits”. I’ve written about this book multiple times as I think the principles outlined in this book are so incredibly relevant to what we do at Heartland Weight Loss. Making health a habit is a very hard thing for many people to do.
I was listening to a podcast this week and the speaker started diving into the world of habits from a totally different perspective (or at least in a way that I hadn’t thought about it before), so I wanted to return to this topic yet again. It’s just that important!
Habits are things that we do so regularly, we don’t even think about them. We don’t think about them because they are painless and – this is key – they give us the results we want. The habits occupy so little brain space that we do them without thinking. They just are. Until we don’t do them. Then we notice the downstream effects.
Think about this: it is a habit for me to brush my teeth every morning. I don’t even think about it – I don’t dread it – I don’t look forward to it. I do it without giving it much thought at all. Unless I don’t get to do it. Although I might not miss the actual act of brushing (again, my brain doesn’t classify it as good or bad) I will notice the gross feeling I have in my mouth all day. I don’t really register missing the doing of the act – but I notice the effect of its absence.
Putting on deodorant is a habit. I don’t classify the act as something good or bad – it just is. However, if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t say to myself, “I really missed that moment of rubbing that stick under my clothes – that is a really enjoyable part of my morning routine,” but I would notice its absence. I would notice that I was sweaty and smelly and it would make me feel abnormal – or out of character. I would miss the benefits that the habit affords me.
Eating healthy food is a habit. I don’t love it – I don’t hate it – but it’s something I do on a regular basis. I don’t classify it as good or bad – it just is. And, as a result of that habit, my body feels good. My brain feels clear. I don’t even notice feeling these things – until I don’t anymore. I’m as human as everyone else and sometimes I join the crowd and eat junk. When I give in to my desire for a cheeseburger and onion rings, my body no longer feels good. My brain doesn’t feel as clear. I get bloated and tired and have a sense of discontent. I feel like there is an extra ring of pressure around my midsection – above my belly button. My bowels fuss at me. I get irritable. I fantasize about taking a nap. I’m not myself.
In these moments, it’s not that I’m noticing the lack of healthy eating – I’m noticing the effect of the absence of it. My daily habits create a body full of wellness and energy and health and when I omit those habits, I change the way my body feels.
Creating new habits isn’t an easy process. It takes practice. And more practice. And even more practice. The behavior compounds over time and adds up but it’s never an instantaneous process. Good things don’t come instantaneously. They take time and effort to develop.
Think about the close relationships that you have. The people that know you inside and out. The people that love you despite your less-than-perfect parts. Did you cultivate those relationships in an instant? No! They took time to develop. They took repeated interactions, over and over again. They took sacrifice and patience and tending-to.
How do you think those relationships would look today if you periodically worked on them, then completely gave up for months on end, just to jump back on board later when you wanted something from the relationship? What if you treated those relationships the way you have treated the act of dieting in the past? On-again, off-again. I want – I need – I deserve – I give up.
If we want to build healthy habits, we have to commit to practicing those behaviors over and over again. Even when it isn’t fun. Even when we don’t want to. Even when everyone else is doing the opposite thing. We have to do this until the behavior is so second-nature that we don’t even question it. When we only notice the times that we aren’t doing it anymore. It’s a mindset. Not a diet.
Until next time – Courtney Younglove, M.D.