Habit: An acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary. With our habits, we perform unconscious actions based on certain stimulants and patterns which become our comfort zones and define who we are. Habits are created, not born. The “habit loop” consists of three steps. First, your brain is triggered by something that sets the stage for a certain behavior to occur. Second, the behavior or routine that causes the habit itself occurs. Third, the reward that your brain likes, that makes you momentarily happy, is experienced. This “reward feeling” keeps the loop going.
Some habits are great. Many that we in the legal profession have created are harmful. Once habits are formed, they are difficult to break because they are second nature — we forget we are doing them. The process is set in motion before you realize, “I’m doing it again.”
Our habits prevent us from controlling aspects of our lives. We are successful in our professional lives, yet so powerless when it comes to our habits. The thought of changing some of our habits makes us uncomfortable and insecure. We don’t want to think about not having “that” in our lives. If you are content with your life and your habits, then this article will not benefit you, at least not now. However, if you are ready to break and make a new habit (they work in tandem), it will take time, but it will be time well spent. The most recent studies suggest it takes at least 66 days to ditch an old habit and create and maintain a new habit. This may seem like an eternity, but it really is a short time, especially when you can busy your mind and activities with positive new habits and look forward to the prize at the end of 66 days: a better you. Let’s get started.
1. You have to want to get rid of a bad habit and take on a new habit. This process should not be done for someone who is nagging you to quit doing something or asking you to begin doing something else.
2. Identify the habit you want to break and identify a new habit to replace it. Consider how you will feel if you do it and how you will feel if you don’t do it. What are life’s consequences of keeping this bad habit going?
3. Write it down in several places and tell as many people as you can. You need accountability. Write it in your calendar – Day 1 through Day 66. Write how you feel about your new habit each day. Write something positive that you can do each day. Plan it in advance. Write down when it began to feel automatic. For example, if you want to stop mindlessly snacking, instead of heading straight to the snack aisle at the grocery store like you habitually did, you realize that you bypassed it completely on your last shopping trip.
4. Never allow exceptions of the habit you are breaking and the new one you are building into your life. You’ve made and kept many commitments in your life. This is a commitment to yourself that should never be broken. When you break it, you go back to the start of the game. That’s never fun. Take it seriously.
5. Set the stage for making the process happen. If the habit you want to break is eating salty crunchy snacks, then do not have them in your house, your car or your office. Don’t buy them for the kids, your friends or your spouse. If the habit is getting up at 6 a.m. each morning instead of hitting the snooze button repeatedly for two hours, then set your nights up to be in bed by 10 or 11 p.m. Set an alarm at 9:30 p.m. that can never be ignored or snoozed, just as you would never ignore a hearing before the court. At 9:30 p.m., it’s time to get ready to sleep. How we all love our sleep, but few of us get the requisite amount.
6. After identifying a new habit to replace the old, realize how powerful and confident the new habit will make you. The new habit should be something that you want to do, that is uplifting and that you enjoy. Instead of dashing to the store to get a bag of crunchy snacks when the uncontrollable urge hits (and it will), crunch on salted carrot chips. Or, realize you really aren’t hungry, but restless, so get off the couch or out of your chair and move in some way, whether that’s taking a flight of stairs, going outside of your office for a walk and fresh air or walking out to your backyard to see what’s newly blooming. Instead of hitting the snooze button for two hours, think about enjoying a freshly brewed cup of coffee or freshly squeezed juice on the way to the office, getting in and out of the office early and enjoying this beautiful spring weather. Stop at a park on the way home from work and go for a walk. Marvel at the beauty of nature.
7. You can do this if you want it, just like anything in your life. Persevere. If you need motivation to keep going, give me a shout. I’ll be your biggest supporter.
I once smoked three packs of cigarettes a day — very hard to remember “that” was really me, but it was. I was a first-semester law student. During finals week, I decided I’d had enough of this awful habit I had tried unsuccessfully to quit numerous times. I took my last final exam of the first semester and never smoked another cigarette. That was Dec. 13, 1988. In its place, I took up jogging. I hated to jog. I hated to exercise, but I had a group of friends at work who I really enjoyed being with, and they were planning to run the Mini-Marathon in five months. I asked if I could train with them. Even though my heart pounded out of my chest and I was sick to my stomach, I kept moving my feet, one step at a time through the training process. I laughed with this great group of very supportive friends along the way. I crossed the finish line of my first Mini in 1989 with happy tears. Best damned change I ever made in my life.
I have made many habit reformations since that time. All were a struggle, just like not smoking, but I always had a plan, a new habit to replace the old and the knowledge that perseverance and a tincture of time will get me there. I have recently begun a new “purge the old and begin the new” habit process, ridding myself of a very old habit that I never liked but also never felt I had enough courage to successfully change. Day 66 will be June 20. I know I will persevere because I want it! I hope you do, too! •
• Sharon Buechler is an attorney and certified personal trainer, health fitness specialist and life and wellness coach. Opinions expressed are those of the author.