Hogwash about Habits

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Sometimes, very often, actually, I think that the real key to success and to achieving your goals is to be nice to yourself. To just step back from all the self-analysis and goal setting, and just be nice. Reward yourself for just being awesome, even if you have regressed a bit.

There is all sorts of advice out there about how many days, weeks, months, or repetitions it takes to build a habit. None of them are true. Not unfailingly. A lot of people say “it takes 21 days to build a habit”. This notion does come from research (and I use that term loosely here), but there are many, many, elements important to success, learning, and goal setting that are not taken into account.

For example, if you absolutely hate playing the piano, but somehow force yourself to practice everyday for 21 days, it is highly unlikely that you will then continue to play everyday out of “habit”. Yes, at that point one could argue that piano-playing had become “part of your routine”. However, if you dislike it, and are not receiving some other reinforcement for practicing, at the end of those 21 days you’ll likely happily replace that bit of your routine with something else.

Now, say you love jazz music, and every Tuesday a virtuoso-jazz-piano-playing-easy-on-the-eyes-friend, who you also have a crush on, comes over to practice with you. There is a good chance you will start to enjoy playing and practicing the piano. You might even start playing everyday or every Tuesday, and that “habit” might form after only one, or three sessions.

If something is rewarding or rewarded, in a way that you value, you are very likely to repeat that thing, maybe even after it has happened only once or twice.

Or, an equally useful bit of behavioral knowledge, when we have to work harder (or longer) for a reward, we value it more. And therefore are likely to repeat those behaviors again.

As I go into this last week of January – first week of February, I will be thining about how I am rewarded for your efforts, or how those efforts are rewarding me.

Join me! Let me know what you learn!

If you are trying to achieve a weight loss, exercise, professional, spiritual, social/family, or academic (any goal, really), and you are thinking “I just have to do this!”, or “I should be able to just stick to this!” stop and breathe. Then, next time you try something that advances you toward your goal, reward yourself, say to yourself  “self, you just did an amazing job focusing on what your kids were saying!”

Instead of silently, grindingly, and punishingly, slogging through your workouts alone, go to a class that seems a little goofy, allow yourself to count roughhousing and running around with your kids as exercise for now.

We don’t give it a second thought to make important things fun for children so that they will develop habits like brushing their teeth, eating healthy foods, and other generally important habits. There is no good reason that same tactic can’t be applied to adults, or yourself.

Have a mindful Monday,

*AB

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