Habits are funny things. We do a lot of the same stuff, day in day out, for years. And often without stopping to think about whether it’s doing us any good.
Habits are also powerful things. And if you’ve ever tried to change one, you’ll understand just how powerful they can be. You might think it’s just a coincidence that you get up in the morning, brush your teeth, have a coffee, get dressed and then unplug your phone before heading out to work. All in the same order, and each in your own particular way, every single morning, year in year out. Yet these aren’t just chance occurrences, these are habits; little routines or ways of doing things that become ingrained in our daily lives.
And it’s not just a morning thing; we have lots of habits that run throughout our lives. Some are good for us. It’s a good habit to brush your teeth every morning. Others are less so. Maybe that 3pm chocolate fix is a habit you’d rather not have. And it’s fair to say that we all probably have a mix of both.
If you’ve started this year bursting with motivation to do something different, and you have a few habits that you’d like to change, read on. For this, our very first newsletter article of 2017 we chatted to psychotherapist, coach and teacher, Mandy Pearson all about habits and asked her for some insider info on how you can change the ones you’d rather not have.
We reckon it’s probably the most important article you’ll read in 2017.
Thanks so much for chatting to us Mandy. Can we start by asking what is a habit?
A habit is something that we do automatically without having to think about it. They are things that we have practiced so often that they have become unconscious. This can be really helpful to us because we don’t want to pay full attention to a lot of things we do as we go through our daily routine and this can be positively fabulous when we get to play the piano, ski or drive without having to go through the painstaking process of thinking through every move, which we did have to do when we first learnt. It can be less than helpful however if we habitually engage in overeating, drinking or worrying (yes that’s a habit too!).
And where do they come from?
Well we aren’t born with habits; they are developed through the natural process of learning. When a baby first learns to walk it is conscious of every movement, every step is conscious and it is hard fought. It takes a lot of hard work and practice to build a habit to the stage where you don’t even give it a second thought (as you probably remember from learning to drive). They say it takes 2000 hours to be an expert in anything… and once you’ve got it, unless you consciously do something to change it, it will remain with you forever. No-one ever forgets how to ride a bike or ice skate.
How do you change a habit? Is there a simple process that someone could follow?
Well if you want to change undesirable habits the good news is that although it takes a while to form new habits it only takes a moment to begin to change them. You may have practiced your habits a while to get this good at them but you can stop and begin a new practice right now. People have an infinite capacity to learn new things. Encountering one major contradiction to our beliefs can change our world forever whether that’s for good – meeting a new kind of person who turns our world upside down or for the not so good – when a health shock or trauma challenges us to take action …and you can mindfully apply the same principle to habits to shake them up on purpose. If you want to change, set about interrupting your habit loop. Remove or interrupt the ‘cues’ in the environment that trigger your habit …hide that biscuit tin on a high shelf where you can’t see it. Or catch yourself in the act and interrupt yourself in the moment by standing up and narrating out loud what you’re doing – or shouting “stop!” preferably with someone you care about in the room to give you extra leverage. Above all else, make the activity conscious again.
How long does it take to completely change a habit?
You wouldn’t expect to be a world-class athlete without going to the gym a few times so allow yourself a little time to completely crack it. You can help the process along if you do a little detective work about what the underlying function of the habit is. Does it ease anxiety in some way? Does it provide comfort? If so what else could you do in the long term to meet those underlying needs in other ways?
There’s nothing more inspiring than hearing about someone who’s made some significant life changes for the better. Do you have any real life examples that you could share with us?
I’ve helped a lot of people change a lot of habits over the years from the common smoking, drinking and overeating to the less thought of but equally insidious mental habits of negative thinking and procrastination. Memorably one lady successfully changed a chocolate eating habit at work by putting in a clause for herself that she could have the chocolate…but only after she’d been to the bathroom and taken off all her clothes and then put them back on again. She found she really couldn’t be bothered to go through the rigmarole so she would have a healthy snack instead. Another man told everyone in his address book that he would be stopping smoking on a particular date and decided if he wanted a cigarette after that it would be fine but he’d have to mail them all and let them know every time. Changing a habit can be less than easy but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with it.
And finally, what’s the single most important piece of advice you could give to someone who wants to make some positive changes in 2017?
Just begin it now…. There’s never going to be a perfect time to make a change and you’ll never be perfectly ready to do something until you’ve done it. Change is always outside of your comfort zone. But that’s where all the great stuff is too.
The first step is the hardest…so make it as easy for yourself as possible, and be nice to yourself. Plan for lapses and know that one cream cake does not herald the end of healthy eating …there will always be another day.
Mandy Pearson MA (Hons), is an accredited and skilled NLP Trainer, Mindfulness and Meditation Teacher, Consultant and Coach. She has studied psychology from many different perspectives, firstly at university as part of her Masters Degree followed by extensive training in Counselling, Clinical Psychotherapy, Hypnotherapy, Coaching and NLP over 20 years. As a Reiki Master Teacher and Spiritual Development Coach she integrates the practice of mindfulness into all aspects of her work. As the Director of Sea Star Training & Head of Leadership at 6th Door Training Ltd she is known as ‘the happiness consultant’ delivering NLP and Mindfulness based Communications trainings and corporate, organisational and one to one Mindful leadership training & coaching throughout the country. She lives in Southport with her family & Tibetan terriers and likes to start every day with a mindful dog walk in the sandhills.