I bet you can list your bad habits. Can’t’cha? When you think of habits, what pops right up are all those things you need to change. Been meaning to change. Know you should change. Promised your spouse, your mother, you would . . . Etc.
Because that’s what we tend to focus on—what we do wrong.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because we all can improve. But if we continually focus on our negative habits, we can’t, by definition, make new and positive ones.
I’m of the Mark Twain prescription for how to do this: “A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time.”
Because, well, our habits are parts of us or they wouldn’t be habits in the first place! And we have to learn to let them go.
One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is by cultivating good habits instead.
And to do that, you shift your attention from what you don’t like about you and the things you do, to what you do like about those same things. And then, strengthen them.
Because what we focus on does expand.
For examples of some of the big ones:
Almost everyone I know wants to lose weight. And that’s the focus—losing weight. They diet and count calories or bread crumbs or now, all the rage, gluten. They’re all intent—just intent!—on what they can’t have. So, what they can’t have grows larger and larger and larger in their minds, and before you know it, instead of a piece of Beth Clark’s oh-so-luscious fudge after dinner, they eat the whole pound of it. (I was just the recipient of said fudge, thank God and Beth!)
Isn’t that just nuts? But it’s the way every single diet I’ve ever seen anyone go on works.
I’m a diet non-believer. Diets make you fat and unhappy. Nearly 100 % of the time.
Know what makes you healthy and happy?
Eating food. Just good, nutritious food. And the more you eat of that, the less you eat of the nutrition-less junk that makes you fat.
I mean, man, it’s summer! All the glorious fruits and vegetables! I’m on a peach fest right now, my peach tree plump and abundant with luscious fruit, the juices streaming down my chin many times a day! Yum, yum, and yum!
That doesn’t mean I don’t eat fab things full of fat and sugar and, horror of horrors, white flour sometimes. But when I’m focused on those peaches, who wants cake?
Hand-in-hand with that is exercise. OMG, do all the women I know pretty much hate it! Again, they focus on the bad habit of couch-potato-hood. On how derelict they are for not exercising. How awful the gym is. Etc.
And I don’t blame them for the last one—the gym is one of the most boring places on earth! I know—I lifted weights for a very long time. And hated every single second of it.
One day I woke up and said, “Why am I spending a minute of this precious life doing something I hate?” All those minutes, hours, days and days added up, which I’ll never get back . . .
So instead, I focus on what I actually like to do to move my body. So my own personal habits revolving around exercises shifted. Now I do Pilates (which I absolutely love), and Classical Stretch, and walk. I walk a lot. Outside. In nature. With my dogs. Talk about a huge win there!
And I’m healthier now than when I ran and lifted weights. But now I’m doing things I love, and not one day arrives where I waste a second doing exercise I hate.
This can be applied to any situation in this universe. Now, if you’re indeed a substance addict, Twain’s way probably won’t work. You actually will have to toss the substance out the window before you can coax the habit down the stairs. But for everyone else, any situation can be flipped on its head here.
As another example, if you have a bad habit of watching too much TV in the evenings, don’t get rid of the TV! (Although I’ve known folks who have done that. It’d just make me cave at some point and go buy a bigger one). Instead, focus on a great book you want to read, and read it for an hour after dinner every evening. Then turn on the TV.
The point being, don’t go into withdrawals, focused on what you can’t have. Instead, identify good habits to have, and apply those.
And it’s just amazing watching good habits coax the bad ones down the stairs. Often, you don’t even realize it’s happening until you look up and go, “With all that walking (and peaches!), I’ve lost another pant size. Who knew!”
Because again, what you think about really does expand. And focusing on positive things is the very best habit to have.