Habit is one of the most powerful behavioral forces known to man. And it can be used for good…and evil. I used to think of habit as a descriptor for a negative behavior, a bad thing. But in the few years since I’ve started working from home and being solely responsible for determining what I do during the day, that’s changed. I’ve come to see a habit as a vital tool.
I’ve written previously about the chorus of voices that inhabit one’s head, and how they can be your best friends and worst enemies. And I’m going to briefly mention another chorus member here that goes by the name of WANT.
WANT is a constant voice, a powerful voice, and a very loud voice. And, what’s more, WANT has an annoying bell that it rings when ignored for too long. WANT makes you eat things you shouldn’t, makes you avoid things that are hard (like exercising), and buy shiny things that you don’t need. WANT’s voice is so loud and so constant that even when it’s not there, we still act as though it is.
The trouble is that we can’t get rid of WANT entirely. And we shouldn’t want to. It’s a necessary motivator. If we didn’t have it, we’d have no reason to eat, to procreate, to excrete waste products, or keep on living. That’s it’s purpose. To keep us alive. The trouble with WANT is that its too good at its job. It also has boundary issues, influencing behaviors that don’t really have anything to do with the previously mentioned vital functions.
I wish there was a checklist of things that I could assign WANT to, and then those would be the only things that would be affected by its power. And when it wasn’t needed, I could just uncheck the item, and I’d have some peace and quiet for a while. Sadly, that’s not the case.
At least, it’s not as easy as that. But there is something that we can do. We can create habits.
The power of a habit lies in the fact that it’s something that you do without really thinking about it. One way to look at a habit is like a miniWANT that only wants to do the one thing. Or a habit could be a rolled up newspaper that we use to swat WANT across the nose whenever it shouts about something that it shouldn’t. Either way, the goal of creating a habit is to get WANT to shut up and let you do the things that might not be the most fun, or most immediately gratifying, but are essential for achieving a longer range goal.
Build a habit in 30 days.
So how do you go about creating your very own new habit? Steve Pavlina is there for you. He’s written an article that brims with great advice and techniques on how to program your brain.
Using this 30-day trial strategy, I’ve successfully created (or destroyed) habits that consistently defeat (or at least fend off) WANT.
The only addition that I have to this approach is to take some time to prepare. Become conscious of the length and width of the habit, to see just how present the habit is in your life, and to identify where you might run into trouble during your trial period before actually starting.
For example, I’ve recently started to eat fewer carbs. But I didn’t start this new habit when it occurred to me. I set a start date of June 1st, and then took the month of May to just observe my eating habits and see just how omnipresent carbs were in the foods that I was eating. I looked at the food options in the grocery store and in my cupboards. Then, when June 1st arrived, I had already done the work of identifying the trouble spots and what foods I could and couldn’t eat. I already had a plan. My only challenge was the actual execution. And that was more than enough of one.
I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to take down a habit when you are completely aware of it’s scope and hold on your life.