Out with the old, In with the new!

It’s the second Friday of a brand new year! How’s it going?

By now you have taken stock of the habits that support you and you can revel in the joy of knowing you are doing good things for yourself. These are your touchstones.

So let’s figure out what’s not helping you sparkle and throw these habits in the bin for good! We need to add some new habits in their place that serve us well. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach no matter how hard the hawkers of the newest revolutionary diet work to have you believe. It’s one level deeper. It centers on how we all relate to expectations. Read more.

Some people get frustrated by their sincere desire to go through the day making healthy choices – especially when moving toward a new, fresh start. I propose there might actually be a better way to approach it. Constantly making choices can be a willpower drain! How about instead coming from the perspective that developing healthy ‘habits’ is the way to go? Why habits? It eliminates one more (or several more) decisions in our daily lives. “It is difficult and depleting to make decisions,” says Gretchen Rubin from clearly one of my new favorites, “The Happiness Project”. I’ve heard it explained many ways but this one is really easy to identify with – and swiftly apply to your current circumstances! With habits, we avoid the drain on our energy that decision-making costs. 

Let’s delve further into habits then, shall we? Not all positives, Rubin contends that there are a couple of drawbacks to be aware of: First, as I’m sure you may even have experienced, habits can actually seem to speed time. It’s here that I think of the film, “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray! When every day is the same, experience shortens and blurs. When we hope for change but approach every day in the same albeit comfortable way as we have before, we’ll always get the same outcome of course. But conversely, time slows down when habits are interrupted, when the brain has to process new information.

Secondly, habits can make it perilously easy to become numb to what can be the more pleasurable experiences of our daily existence. As something becomes a habit, we have less of an emotional response to it – which can be a good thing sometimes but also leave us feeling like we’re missing out.  Does that daily latté taste as good as the first few times you had one? While delicious at first, it can gradually become part of the background of your day – you’re not necessarily focused on tasting it but become restless if you don’t have it. It’s that sweet after dinner, it’s the cookie every afternoon, it’s the cigarette as a break from the chaos, and so on. So it’s important to think about the habits that we want to embrace, those that help us move forward, the habits that will serve us well for the right reasons.

It’s so important that we think hard about the habits that we truly want to add to our repertoire so we mindfully use the mindlessness of habits! 

Now on to those sometimes seemingly elusive good habits we long to embrace. The chance of success is much greater as you begin to tune into how you relate to expectations.

Have you ever wondered why it’s easy for your best friend to meet every crucial deadline and it’s so difficult for you not to procrastinate? Or how about that friend that gets up every day at 5:00am to get a run in before her day starts? What is that all about when all you can think of is hitting the snooze button once more and enjoying another few minutes under the covers. It’s the same with habits. One friend makes a list of New Year’s resolutions and slowly and methodically marks each one off as accomplished. And another seems to be continually sabotaging her resolutions with a round of guilt to follow. Good news here: it’s because we are all different. Yes, I know you’ve heard that all before and a “one-size-fits-all” approach will never be successful be it the newest diet craze, the most up-to-date approach to organizing or whatever.

There is hope for all of us! And I really like Rubin’s approach as she sets out four ‘tendencies’, one of which resonates with almost everyone, that can help us set up habits we can more easily keep. She categories everyone into one of these four areas: the upholders, the questioners, the obligers and the rebels. Are you beginning to see yourself as more of one than the other already?

We all face two kinds of expectations: outer expectations (meet work deadlines, observe traffic regulations) and inner expectations (start practicing piano, keep a New Year’s resolution, etc). How we respond to each is key. 

The Upholders respond easily to both outer expectations and inner expectations. They are equally comfortable doing what others expect of them and what they expect from themselves. Then there are the Questioners who, like the name implies, question all expectations. They tend to meet an expectation only if they believe it’s reasonable which qualifies it for an ‘inner’ expectation. They’ll do what they think is best according to their judgment. They won’t do something that doesn’t make sense to them. Next we have the Obligers who respond easily to outer expectations but find it difficult to meet inner expectations. They don’t like to let others down but often let themselves down. The Rebels are next and they tend to resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They want to do what they want in their own way. And if they are told to do something, they are actually less likely to do it.

Once you have identified where you fit on the continuum of tendencies, you’ll have a better idea of what habit-change strategy might work well for you. Rubin gives some examples that spur us to think about how we formulate those strategies for ourselves. Upholders do well with a strategy of scheduling, Questioners with a strategy of clarity, Obligers with the strategy of accountability and Rebels with one of identity.

It’s an interesting approach and one that I think spurs a lot of valuable insight and provides a greater hope of achieving those mindfully mindless habits for the long term.

Next we’ll weigh whether rewards are a good idea. Stay tuned!

Annette Shafer
Annette Shafer