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Habits: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Habits: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Contributed by
Eva Fleming

It took me a long time to get up in the morning, lace up my shoes and go straight to the park for my daily three-mile walk. I have to be honest, at first, it was difficult, and I had to devote a lot of mental energy to this task, but with time it became much easier. Now,  if it’s raining or if I have an early appointment, I don’t quite know what to do with myself. I first began establishing this habit when my children were young, and I needed solo time to re-energize myself and gather my thoughts. Later it became imperative when the doctor diagnosed me with high blood pressure, and walking was the only alternative to medication.

We activate habits every day from the moment we get out of bed to the moment we go to bed.

Some habits are automatic. We wake up, we brush our teeth and practice good hygiene. It’s second nature.

Some habits we work very hard to establish. I love to read. For me, it would be easy to only read for pleasure. I could spend all day reading how-to articles on keeping my house organized and making healthy homemade meals. While this is great, I know I also need to read for professional reasons. One of the most challenging habits I had to develop, was learning to read research literature pertaining to my field. But after doing it over and over, I no longer dread it and instead seek out this literature on a daily basis.

Some habits we want to get rid of. I have made up my mind to get rid of gossip. By so doing, I’m also not allowing negative people to invade my space.

Old habits are hard to break. Through my experience what I can tell you for sure is that old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form. But through the endless repetition of failures and successes, it’s possible to establish and maintain new habits.

Why form new habits? Why not just keep procrastinating and living life without discipline? Neuroscientists have traced our habit of changing behaviors to one part of the brain and our decision-making process to a different part. But as soon as behaviors become automatic, the decision making part of the brain goes into sleep mode, if you will.

Researchers from Duke University have shown that 40% of what we do is determined not by decisions but by habits. Can you imagine being able to perform specific tasks automatically without giving it a second thought, freeing space in our brain for more productive living? That’s what good habits do. Good daily habits energize us; bad habits drain us. That is the absolute reality.  

Start making small changes today, so that when you’re 75 years old, you can wake up healthier and happier because of the good habits you implemented today.

The key to good habit forming is planning and taking it one step at a time. Plan what you want to do differently, put it in your calendar and fulfill that promise to yourself. Make small, manageable steps towards the goals you are trying to reach. People that try to do it all in one day are rarely successful. I started walking half a mile a day. It was what I could manage physically and emotionally at the time. But I kept doing it and slowly started adding a few more steps to my daily walk. I have friends that are runners and can do 10 miles a day, I admire them, but I don’t envy them. I do what I can, and I insist on being consistent. Success is better achieved through small daily changes that are repeated over time. So whether you want to stop procrastinating, biting your nails, smoking, snacking incessantly, recurring to gossip, or beating yourself down with negativity, start small by doing it less and less until you achieve success.  

Our habits hold great influence over how we think, act and feel. We are the result and sum of our habits so don’t put it off any longer, invest in yourself. You are worth it.

What new habits would you like to establish? Which would you like to get rid of?  Let us know in the comments section below.

For more tips on life and relationships, follow us on social media @familybridges.

How to Make Your Goals Stick

How to Make Your Goals Stick

Contributed by
Dr. Alicia La Hoz

“A dream without a plan is a wish.”  In the past two blogs about change we’ve spent some time breaking down the foundations that help people change: Self-awareness and the decision to change.  Now, once you make a goal, how do you make sure to succeed in achieving it? After all, an admirable feat is not just about our launch, but how we finish. Below are some tips on finishing well.

  1. Pair your end-goal with something enjoyable.  Small rewards help provide a boost of motivation, and they don’t have to be exotic or expensive! Things you truly enjoy, like a steaming cup of coffee in the morning, music, or spending time with friends can be paired up with habits that you are trying to build. For example, if your goal is to journal everyday, create a routine of journaling with your favorite drink. This will increase the likelihood of you beginning to crave the activity. Brainstorm ways that you can incorporate your new goals with things that you naturally enjoy.
  2. Define Option B. If your goal is to stop damaging behaviors, identify the triggers that cause you to lurch towards the harmful activity. If your goal is to stop binging on junk food, keep healthy alternatives in your kitchen or make a habit of going outside for a walk when the urge to binge kicks in. If you are trying to stop chewing your nails, think of an alternative activity to occupy your hands when you are feeling anxious. If your alternative plan is too lofty or is something that you hate it, your heart won’t be in it and you will give up. You are more likely to succeed in lasting change when your alternative option is something you like to do and easy to do.
  3. Hold yourself accountable to another.  Find accountability by joining forces with a buddy or a group that is interested in pursuing a similar goal. For example, if you want to run a marathon, join a local running club. Those who hold themselves accountable to one another are most likely to succeed in the goals they set for themselves.
  4. Recalibrate. Oftentimes, circumstances like sickness, job loss, etc. can interrupt established routines. Accept that there will be bad days, days when you feel down, or days when your schedule seems out of control. Instead of having the expectation that these things should never get in the way of your plans, come to terms with life’s unpredictability. Schedule a few times throughout the year where your sole purpose is to evaluate your goals. As you evaluate them, think about what is helping you make progress and what roadblocks get in your way. Adjust your plan based on what you learn.
  5. Celebrate.  Recognize the milestones that you have achieved and celebrate them. Give yourself credit for the progress that you have made. Take the time to relish the goodness that comes with moments of success.

Go ahead and embrace a growth mindset, a mindset that seeks to grow and to learn.  As you do so, you will be a better student, parent, spouse, and employee/employer.

Your turn.  In the comment below, share what are some of the things you have found that have been helpful in helping you stick to your goals.

For more resources on personal and professional development,  you can follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges.

Creating Winning Habits

Creating Winning Habits

Contributed by
Dr. Alicia La Hoz

This is part two of the second blog in our resolution series, “How Do You Convince Yourself to Change?,” which you can read here. Once you have decided that you want to change and commit to measurable goals, the next step is creating winning habits that will take you to the finish line!

Create Habits that Work for You:

Once you have defined specific goals, build a routine that works for your schedule. If you plan to go to the gym in the morning three days a week, establish a routine that ensures your greatest success in the morning (i.e, put gym clothes on  immediately after waking up, set the alarm clock, have breakfast ready to go).  If your goal is to spend 10 minutes a day with your spouse to talk, figure out when that time will be, and create rituals that will help  facilitate that time. Brew tea, make a cup of coffee, get a notebook where you and your spouse and jot down stories that you want to share or remember.  Once you have established routines, and you work the routine out for a couple of months, the activity and mindset will begin to become part of who you are.

Remember the 3:00 o’clock coffee story I shared in my last blog post? Once the habit is established, you no longer have to decide each day to be grateful, to exercise or to eat healthier. Once you become habituated into the pattern, your brain will begin to expect the routine. Just like I anticipated the coffee, you will find yourself anticipating eating the healthy apple during a break at work, you will crave the hugs you receive and give from your loved ones before bolting out the door.  And just like every day you automatically seem to brush your teeth or drive yourself to work without thinking about it, your good habits will take over your poor ones and these will ultimately be folded into the very fabric of who you are.

Celebrate the Small Wins:

Success is a series of small wins. Celebrate each day you follow through with your goal. Celebrate after you succeed and celebrate while you are engaging in the activity. You can also create reinforcing activities that motivate you to keep the course when you pair an activity with another enjoyable activity. For example, if your goal is to get on an elliptical 30 minutes a day/3-days a week after work, stream your favorite show only during this time. Or if you love coffee, make sure you have the coffee ready when you spend your distraction-free 10 minutes talking with your spouse. If your goal is play with your kids 15 minutes a day, find an activity you both enjoy doing. Pushing towards a goal will be less of a grind if you find enjoyment in the process.

Write down your goals and achievements. Journal your progress and make a mental note of emotional and/or physical changes that you have experienced. As you savor the small positive changes that take place, you will feel more encouraged to stay on the course.

You can be the biggest obstacle to your own success. Convince yourself to change, and you will have won half the battle.

For more resources on personal and professional development,  you can follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges.