Pulling a Habit Out of Your Hat: Are Your Bad Habits Sabotaging Your Happiness?

Cynthia had a habit of cleaning her plate. Even when she was full.  She was not aware of this habit until a good friend joked about her “clean plate club.”

Tom hit the snooze button every morning, sometimes two or three times.   It did not even occur to him until his wife said one morning, “Would you please set your alarm 20 minutes later so that we can get uninterrupted sleep?”

Diane could not go five minutes without checking her iPhone.  Not until her daughter said, crying, “You never spend time with me because you are always on your phone,” did she realize that she always had her phone within reach.

Helen was asked to be the homeroom mom, to join her tennis team, to organize the neighborhood yard sale, and plan her friend’s dinner outing.  She said yes to all.  She was so stressed, over-tired and over-committed that she did not even know why she was saying yes to one more thing.

You probably can identify with at least one of these people.  How do highly motived, highly educated, and highly successful people develop these habits?

Our habits contribute hugely to success or frustration on your wellness journey.  Habits can support a healthy life or undercut us every step of the way.  Understanding what triggers your auto-pilot habits and what is happening to your brain will help reshape your body, our relationships, and much more.

At Fitness on the Run we focus on nutrition, sleep, stress management, and moving correctly.  All are critical. And all are affected by our habits, some we may not even recognize because they have been on auto-pilot for so long.

We have to start with the basics. Consider that each of us is a unique product of our daily, minute by minute, hourly habits. Habits form and are very hard to break. In fact, they are even harder to begin!

Julia Layton writes in How Stuff Works magazine, “When any behavior or pattern is repeated enough, the synaptic pathways associated with that pattern get used to being accessed. As a result, it becomes easier for impulses to travel along those pathways, and the behavior seems ‘natural.’”

In his book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” The New York Times business writer Charles Duhigg explains that every habit is part of a “habit loop.”

The loop begins with a trigger that tells your brain to go into this automatic behavior mode. Common triggers are stress, your mother’s voice, a text from your boss, end of the work day, toxic friendships, a child crying, awakening, daylight, dusk, and millions of others.

Next, the routine or what we know as a habit just happens. Automatically. One friend reflects, “On my daily return home from seeing my ailing mother, I always stop at Starbucks for a pick-me-up. I see a sale at a store online and cannot resist the 30 percent discount. My sister talks down to me and I take it and hide my real feelings. My dog barks and I say “Shush Fifi.”

Finally, cue the reward. You “GET” something from that behavior. More sleep, a tasty calorie-filled coffee drink, an adrenaline rush from scoring a good deal, or a bit of Zen in a glass of red wine.

The decision part of our brain is separate from the habit part. Decisions take more energy and are not automatic. They take real focus from our brains. No wonder they are exhausting!

Habits form and become automatic…your brain is on cruise control.  “In fact, the brain starts working less and less,” says Duhigg. “The brain can almost completely shut down… And this is a real advantage, because it means you have all of this mental activity you can devote to something else.”  You can multi task while conducting whatever behavior is now a habit. Good!? No!

Over the next week, pay attention to the habits that derail your commitment to wellness. Figure out your triggers and meet back here for the roadmap to reset those lifestyle habits.

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