Is there really such a thing as a bad habit? I think the term reflects the kind of moralizing we often do when the real issue is effective/ineffective. We blame ourselves for lack of "willpower," a "bad" character trait, because we don't understand habit structures. We blame ourselves for lacking "motivation," or being "lazy," because we don't know how to manage our moods or energy levels. We're quick to label ourselves, not so quick to figure out what it is that other people do differently. What works? What doesn't work? That's all that matters.
Bad habits are just the things we'd rather do. They're not necessarily "bad." I like to read true crime and self-help books, and I don't care who knows it! I can waste just as much time reading educational articles or watching documentaries as I can reading gossip columns or watching soap operas. I can gain just as much weight eating gluten-free muffins as the regular kind. I can spend just as much money on fitness equipment and classes as I can on a gaming system and cable TV, which makes them identical from the vantage point of my puny retirement account. It's not necessarily what I'm doing with my money or my time. It's more about whether my money and time are buying me the life I want or not.
The trick is always, first, to strategize. Know what you want. Crank up your emotions around it. If you want it, rev yourself up until you want it REAL BAD. We're great at doing this with food but we don't always realize that we can do it with anything. When I was training for my marathon, all I could think about was getting that souvenir t-shirt at the finish line and all the places I was going to wear my shirt. I saw myself wearing my race medal to dinner that night. I didn't see that I would have to walk backward and crawl upstairs on my butt, but that's a different story. I did get what I wanted, because I knew what I wanted and I wanted it more than other things. I also got that shirt because I know how to combine the things I like to do. In my case, that was running + audio books + vanilla fig bars.
Anchoring is when we connect one thing with another. Socks and shoes. Peanut butter and jelly. Folding laundry and jumping out the window. Actually, scratch that. Folding laundry while listening to a podcast. Running on the elliptical while reading mysteries and celebrity biographies. Riding a recumbent bike while playing video games. Cleaning house while listening to the Best Playlist Ever. One of life's greatest mysteries is why so many people do their worst chores in silence, even when they have the option of playing whatever music they want. Use this power for good.
What we tend to do is to anchor our favorite habits with one another, rather than using them to get us through the boring stuff. Eating cookies and reading. Watching TV and eating takeout. Granted, everyone should have moments of pure bliss every day, or at least every week. We do have the opportunity, though, to harness the awesomeness of our favorite activities and use it to make the duller moments less sucky. Awesome + sucky = meh, okay I guess.
What is the worst, most annoying part of your life? Mornings? Money? Commuting? Your job? Fighting with your family? Cooking? Cleaning? Alas, there's no escape from biology, society, or the economy. There's always a better way, though. Usually there are lots of better ways.
Try to fit as much awesomeness into your mornings as possible. Wear funny socks and underwear. Splurge on soap or body wash if you splurge on anything - I like tuberose. Eat your favorite food for breakfast. Make sure you see your favorite color a lot, whether that's your toothbrush or your bowl. Listen to something great while you shower and get dressed. I start my day with a kiss from my parrot, while my husband's treat is watching the dog chase his tail while he waits for his breakfast. Awesomeness doesn't have to take more than a minute. It's just knowing that you have this one little thing to enjoy every single day.
Commuting is basically the worst non-fatal, non-criminal activity. It used to drive me crazy when people would tailgate me, even when I stayed in the slow lane and there was obviously a cement mixer in front of me. Someone passed me on the right once, driving through bushes on the shoulder of the road, when the passing lane was empty for miles! Driving would be fine if nobody else was on the road. Anyway. One day, I realized I could listen to audio books in the car. Total change of perspective. Suddenly my car became the setting of an old-fashioned radio play and I forgot all about the tailgaters. I couldn't wait to run errands at work. Then I joined a gym next door to our building, and I was able to spend rush hour doing my workout and soaking in the hot tub afterward.
Feelings of deprivation drive a lot of ineffective choices. Feeling deprived leads us to eat stuff and spend money on stuff that sets us back and sends us in the opposite direction of what we really want. The higher my household income, the thinner I am and the less stuff I have. It's weird to be able to buy things you always thought you wanted, and no longer want them after all. Change your definition of 'deprived.' How could I ever voluntarily deprive myself of a good night's sleep? How could I dream of depriving Future Me of enough money to live on when I'm too old to work? Why would I deprive myself of a high energy level and a fit, healthy body? How could I deprive myself of a functional, comfortable living environment? This puts habits in the context of our overall experience of life.
"Bad habits" aren't always bad. I ate an awful lot of cookies and waffles when I was training for the marathon. I consume a lot of mental fluff while working out and cleaning house. I spend virtually all my time doing what I want every day, and fortunately, most of those activities don't cost money. It's totally possible to have fun while saving money and being fit and organized. In fact, focusing on those overall outcomes is what frees up the time, money, and energy to do the most decadently fun things in life.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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