It had become a ritual for me to begin my day in a coffee shop writing blog posts like this. I would buy a bottomless cup of coffee along with a bagel and cream cheese. The staff at several different shops knew me by name. It was a deeply ingrained habit if there ever was one. Of course, a bagel with cream cheese 250 times a year catches up with you. If you’ve been doing this for more than 30 years, like I have, your metabolism starts to punish you by draining your energy and focus by 10AM.
This is not unlike the other habits we all develop over time, out of convenience, desire, or wanting to belong. (“Everybody else does it.”) The brain, of course, develops a well ingrained neuropathway for each one of these habits that reminds you to do it every day at a particular time and in a particular way. In fact, it creates a sense of discomfort if you don’t complete this task. Develop enough of these neuropathways, and you become a victim of this jumble of habits, most of which cost money, drain energy and waste time.
So how do you break this costly momentum? By doing three essential things: 1) Replace the old with the new, 2) Change your self-talk and 3) Change your surroundings. Ironically, in my case, it was the third strategy that came first. When every coffee shop in the world shut down abruptly this year, I had no choice but to change my surroundings. I didn’t eliminate bagels from my diet, but I did eliminate cream cheese. Did you know a dry bagel’s not bad once you’ve had a few. I also started telling friends and colleagues that I limit myself to a dry bagel and a banana between breakfast and lunch. When you say something like that enough, you begin to reprogram your thinking and, as a result, your habits. (This worked well with, “I love salads,” a number of years ago.)
Now, you might be thinking, “I know all this. I can change if I want to.” Okay, I’ll stipulate that. But what costly habits have you actually succeeded in changing? Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to list them. Lest you think I’m being preachy, I face the same challenge. Like you, I can be really good at listing the reasons why I should be doing this or that right now. But then time slips away and it’s suddenly the next year.
So, what’s one habit you can replace over the next thirty days with something more productive? Remember, limit your plan to one habit at a time, otherwise the stress of doing so will defeat your efforts. Anticipate the initial discomfort you’ll experience and reframe it. It will diminish over time. And change your surroundings. It is environmental cues that subtly remind us of these destructive routines. Finally, spread the word. Tell your friends and family what you’re doing and ask them to hold you accountable. Offer to do the same for them some time. We all need the support.