Habits. Why We Need Less Stick and More Carrot
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”~Aristotle
I’m the queen of beating myself up, I’ve got the award certificate on my wall. For most of my life, in my own eyes, I always fell short and never accomplished enough. But you know what? It’s taken a long time to get there but I’ve been wrong. It’s always been easy to encourage others but hard for me to see that we are all worthy and enough and that it includes me, by golly! I now realize it all comes down to my habits and the little piece I’ve been missing.
Recently, I’ve awakened to discover that we’ve been using the wrong tools. Heavy on the stick, short on the carrot. Once you’ve zeroed in on the things that mean the most to you and made a decision to put them first in your life, you need a plan.
The road to hell
It’s been said that ideas are a dime a dozen and it’s true. You’ve probably heard the expression “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Surprisingly, it seems to have originated with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, somewhere around the year 1150. (Did you get that? A saint!) It’s been a common human struggle for an awfully long time!
The phrase is a stern reminder that we often have the intention to do good things but we fail to take action. This may be due to procrastination, laziness or some other character flaw, but whatever the reason, it’s meant to scold us and remind us that a good intention is meaningless unless followed through. Personally, I think it’s harsh and lately I’m finding it’s just plain wrong.
You know how it goes. We intend to eat healthier but mindlessly put the same junk in our grocery cart. We’re determined to get up earlier so we can start our day less frazzled but we stay up too late again, fall into bed exhausted, hit snooze 5 or 6 times and find ourselves in the same old frenzy come morning.
We’re not just a bunch of slackers
It isn’t because we’re lazy sluggards. It’s because we’ve acquired a habit. The dictionary defines a habit as, “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary .” We’re blissfully unaware of how strong our habits have become until we try to break the bad ones. But wait- there’s a silver lining on this cloud folks! Good habits just as strong.
There’s a lot of new research that has us looking at habits and will power differently. Bad habits are much like addictions. If you genuinely want to make changes in your life you must be willing to (a.) make a commitment; a rock-solid, no-chance-to-change-your-mind commitment and (b.) change your environment to increase your chances of success.
Why your environment is critical
Author and blogger Ben Hardy explains it this way *;
“The environment is more powerful than your internal resolve. As a human being, you always take on the form of the environments in which you continually place yourself.
Consequently, the best use of your choices is consciously designing environments that facilitate your commitments. Actually, if you’re really committed to something, this is exactly what you’ll do.
If you’re trying to stop drinking alcohol, you must stop being 1) around people who drink alcohol, and 2) at places that serve alcohol. Your willpower will fail if you don’t. You need to truly decide you’re done, to commit, and then to create an environment to make the success of your commitment inevitable.”
(*P.S. I just bought his book!)
Where do I start?
For me, I read up on something when I want to learn more. Two excellent books in addition to Hardy’s are Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin and Nudge by Richard Thaler. Don’t freak out if you’re not a reader! There’s a nifty website called fourminutebooks.com that has parsed both into a quick overview for you. I haven’t checked but both are probably available on Audible as well.
Best advice? Start Simple: Don’t try to change everything at once. Start with one or two things. Like maybe looking at your phone less than the typical person does, for example. How many times is that? 150 times a day is the new average! Our habits and addictions are unique to each of us but with the right tools, change is much more possible!
It’s easier than you might think to make great progress toward becoming the best possible version of who you were designed to be. Start by making small changes in your environment and your behavior. Those changes are “easy to do and easy not to do”, but over time, huge improvements can be realized by intentional and consistent dedication to making good choices. What changes would bring you closer to the life you want?