Pretend we have video recorded the first 30 minutes of your day; and then ask you to describe in detail your morning routine. Yes, it is a bizarre request. But follow me for a minute here.
Ok, You wake up in the morning. Do you sit straight up? Stretch? Roll over to your side? Do you look at the floor before you put your feet down? Do you stand up without pushing your hands off your legs or the bed? What's next? Bathroom? Shower? Breakfast? Wait did you wake up on your own or was there an alarm? What did the alarm sound like? What time did it go off? How many times did you snooze?
We could go on with this. But the point is - there are so many activities and decisions that happen below the conscience level all day. You don't think about the steps. You don't analyze the decisions. They just happen. How could this be? Well we could dive in and say things like neurons that fire together wire together. Or we could talk about cues, routines, and rewards - but let's keep this super simple. These activities happen without thought because you programed your human to do them.
An example: The first time you drove to your work or school, you had to look up how to get there. Most likely you plugged the destination address into your phone GPS and followed the instructions. Or if you have been working there for a long time maybe you used google maps; or if a really long time maybe you pulled the map out from behind the front seat of your vehicle (do people still keep maps?). But as you made the drive day after day the routine, the turns, the path became familiar. And then at some point it all sort of goes numb and you just mindlessly leave and arrive.
Sometimes this can be sort of scary how well your brain can function mindlessly like this. But the alternative would be exhausting. You'd have to think and analyze every situation, every move. Perhaps even how deep and fast or slow you breathe. You'd have a tough time getting out of the house if you had to focus on all the decisions you/your body made. Instead of cursing this autopilot take advantage of it.
If you could program any behavior into yourself, what would it be?
Let me be clear, I am not knocking motivation. Motivation is great. You can argue that is where it all starts. And if you are referring to positive habits - I'd most likely agree. I encourage you to find things that motivate you. Celebrate your motivation. Share it. Practice it. Zig Ziglar reminds us that we must practice motivation everyday. Because like a bath it does not last. That's the thing. For motivation to work it has to be on your mind. It has to be meaningful and powerful enough to be kept in the forefront of your mind. To help keep your motivation on your mind, I encourage you to dig in beyond the surface level (check out my previous blog on this topic).
Habits on the other hand, over time, become mindless. Furthermore, your body doesn't judge your habits as good or bad - it just follows the program/routine that you have been telling it to follow.
What have you been telling your body to do?
How can you tap into this awesome potential?
For programing in new habits:
I like to look at & ask how can you set your future self up for the best possible possibility of success. Often it is focusing on removing &/or anticipating obstacles. Prepare, plan ahead, basically make it as easy as possible for you future self to comply. Example: You want to start running in the mornings. Dig down to your 5th why as to "why this is important to you" (referance to the previous blog link I gave you above). Make it as easy as possible. Set your clothes and shoes out. Prepare your water bottle, have ingredients for a quick post-run breakfast ready. Set an alarm for the morning with the Rocky Theme music. Go to bed early. Do your best to remind yourself why this habit is important to you. This affirmation will be helpful if you repeat it to yourself everyday. If you wait until it is cold, it is rainy, etc; it will be hard to convince yourself to pull the covers off on those days.
For eliminating old habits you have deemed bad, I like to look at paterns and cues. Why do you do it? What is the trigger? Example: Perhaps you are eating cookies or donuts in the office between meals. If you look at the facts of what you are eating and deem it sufficient - maybe you aren't scavanging these snacks because you need food - maybe you just like chatting with people in the break room. Ok, go in there and get a water and then chat 'em up.
These are quick examples. Sometimes what you first think doesn't work. Then you have to look for another strategy or modify your current plan. For your run perhaps you notice other obstacles bubble up - again work on removing resistance/friction and try to automate the process. For eliminating your inner office cookie monster maybe you need to eat a better breakfast so you don't crave sweets later. For it to work best for you, the strategy has to be build around you and your lifestyle. In the beginning you will need your motivation to remind you how important it is to you. But as time goes on your body will settle into autopilot mode. So for example: if you really want to eat well. But you don't plan well as to how to accomplish this and set your future self up for success - You may be very motivated in the beginning. But that motivation will fade and then your habits will take over. My experience is the motivation will last longer in folks that dig past the surface level and find the root of their motivation. The longer your motivation lasts - the better chance you will have of programming that habit at the subconscious level.
How can you leverage this information to your advantage?
P.S. I think it is worth mentioning that the fewer habits you focus on the better your chance of success. So to set your future self up for the best probability of success pick one. Focus on it. Once it starts becoming automatic (no or minimal thought required) then go to the next habit on the list.
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