Having been an athlete for most of my life, I was fortunate to understand the power of my habits at a young age, and how these dictated my behaviors in life. When I threw myself headlong into pursuing being a Pro Racquetball player, every decision I made was measured against one question:
Does this help me accomplish my goal?
This made my life simpler in many ways. If I was given a choice between going to a party on Friday night and drinking with a bunch of friends or going to the health club and practicing my forehand and backhand, I would choose the latter of those two in every case. That macro outlook allowed me to manage in the micro. The day to day decisions I made had a huge impact on the amount of time that it would take me to reach my goal, and I wanted to get there as soon as possible. This meant that in the grand scheme of things, the more often I made a good decision that served the purpose, the sooner I would arrive at my destination. It made decision-making much easier, despite peer pressure and the desire to fit in at school and with friends. I was driven to achieve, and every time I took a side step in that process it left the goal slightly farther out of reach.
Sometimes the simple desire to change a habit from something that is not a habit that serves you well, like smoking for example, to a different behavior pattern that is more beneficial to you is enough of a driver for change. If you have ever read Atomic Habits by James Clear, you will have already read some of the things I am going to cover. If you have not read this book, stop what you are doing and order it off of Amazon right now. This is not an affiliate link or any kind of paid endorsement, the book is just that good.
The short term “benefit” of smoking a cigarette theoretically is the calming affect the nicotine has on your mind. But here is a question, did you enjoy that first cigarette? Almost no one can say they did, they were partaking in a social situation where someone else had one and you decided that you wanted to fit in so you did it too. The desire we have as a teenager to fit into a peer group is so strong that we will go to great lengths to be accepted by those we value. At some point you adapt to the taste and smell of the cigarette and it no longer makes you want to throw up when you inhale it. Then you move into the stage where the craving for nicotine kicks in and drives that awful habit. Soon you find yourself standing outside on a winter day, freezing your ass off, just to take a smoke break.
The real problem with this habit, as we all know, is that it has a high likelihood of causing health issues down the road. Everything from mouth and tongue cancer, lung cancer, emphysema, COPD and a myriad of other problems, not to mention the monetary cost of smoking. Your car stinks, your clothes stink, and you smell like a cigarette despite your best efforts to avoid it. All of these things should deter anyone from smoking ever, but it doesn’t. Why is that?
As James Clear discusses in his book, there are lots of reasons, but ultimately the message boiled down to its essence would be this:
The habits you create dictate the patterns of your behavior.
Now, you can easily flip this around and say that the behavior you have dictates your habits, and that would be true as well. The reasons we do things are many; childhood trauma, the environment you were raised in, the need for instant gratification, the desire to fit in with others, the list can go on and on. But I believe that if you have a Macro Goal that you are focused on, this makes delineating a Micro strategy on the day to day level much easier. If you wander through life with no real purpose and no defined goals, managing your habits is much more difficult. If you want to get back in shape because your spouse is hinting around about you being overweight, this may motivate you for a short time. But if you knew that you have a family history of heart disease and several family members have died before age 65, you now have a real driving reason to eat better and get into a healthier lifestyle in general. That is the Macro purpose leading the Micro habits.
We all have our vices in life. Mine happens to be having a sweet tooth. I love sugary breakfast cereals and soda. I could never drink another drop of alcohol my whole life and not care, but sugar is a different story. I don’t buy soda, because if I do, I drink it. For me, I know that consuming too much sugar within a couple of hours of going to sleep will have a downside for me, and that is my legs twitching and keeping me awake. I literally can give myself restless legs syndrome from overconsumption of sugar. When I was younger, the affects of this didn’t seem to be as bad, or I was just less sensitive to it back then. Now though, I know I am going to pay the price. If you have ever felt that twitchy leg thing, it is awful. It is frustrating and affects the quality of my sleep for the whole night. That means I’ll wake up feeling hung over. Yes, literally, I feel like I have a hang over from all the sugar, just like if I had several margaritas the night before. When I was 25, maybe I didn’t care as much, or I didn’t make the correlation, but now I do. I understand the equation that if I consume “X” amount of sugar within three hours of sleeping, the result will be “Y”, which equals the hangover feeling. Knowing this makes it easier to order a water with dinner instead of a soda. The temporary pleasure of the taste of a Coke is not worth the longer ranging affects; the hangover tomorrow and the long term affects of the liquid death in a plastic bottle that sells well over a billion units a day worldwide.
Many habits start out the same, it is an action that makes us feel good in the moment. We like that feeling and so we replicate it. The more often we replicate that pleasure-inducing behavior the more we carve into our daily experience the “need” for that. And boom…there’s your pack a day cigarette habit. It started out far more innocuous than that, but now you are in the clutches of the tobacco and nicotine and breaking free feels like it is impossible. As James Clear illustrates in Atomic Habits, there are triggers that cause that behavior pattern to perpetuate. If you remove the triggers, like sitting in a bar with a few friends who will want to step outside for a smoke break a few times that night, you have a much better chance of breaking the pattern for yourself. If you were in rehab for drug use or alcoholism, one of the first things they teach you is to disrupt the patterns and triggers in your life. You need a new set of friends, and you need to avoid the triggers that you are not strong enough to override. At some point your willpower will exhaust, so instead of relying on that to carry you through, set yourself up for long term success by creating better habits.
As the picture accompanying this blog kind of shows, making the leap from old to new is precarious. You should expect that landing pad to be a little shaky at first, and you need to be ready for that. Once you make the leap, you are 50% of the way there. But there is still a lot of work to be done; you need to land and hold your ground. Do your best not to slide backwards or to cave in to the desire to reverse your steps and go back to where you were. You can adapt to anything given enough motivation to do so. You just need to tap into what motives you, and again, remove the triggers that make you question your decisions.
Since I am venturing into the personal coaching business, (more on that soon) I have made this a topic for today and a much more frequent one moving forward. We ALL struggle with things that we want to remove from, add to, reduce or expand in our lives. We intrinsically know what we should and should not do, but we are masters at deluding ourselves and justifying things in our own minds. I have spent a lifetime trying to align my daily and weekly habits with the goals I set for myself, and I look forward to sharing some of that knowledge with others so they can maximize their own habits for success. Being an accountability partner for others is a role I have played for a long time, as a coach and a sales manager. I have had to do it for myself as a solo sales person in some of the companies I have worked for. All of it boils down to aligning the behaviors with the goal(s) you have. Easy to say but not easy to do, I understand. But if I have figured it out, as many others have, that means that ALL OF US can do it.
If I can be of assistance, please let me know. I wish you luck in your endeavors.