Consistency: Breaking Bad Habits and Forming Good Ones
“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” – Winston Churchill
I was recently asked to write a blog about consistency. Okay, I thought, that doesn’t sound too hard and it’s a great topic when discussing reaching goals and changing behaviors.
What does it mean to be consistent? I know, you might be thinking, that’s easy, Michele, it means doing the same thing in the same way over and over. Bingo. We don’t need no stinkin’ Merriam Webster, right? But I digress. This got me thinking…dangerous, I know, but here it goes.
Habits are very powerful.
They are difficult to change or break. But if we can break old bad habits and replace them with better habits, we have the power to change the course of our lives. The problem is, that it’s not an easy task. Breaking bad habits and replacing them with more positive habits or simply letting go of the negative ones, takes discipline and work.
So, why does it seem like only the bad habits feel so good?
Most of us already know that bad habits are hard to break, but we also know that if we don’t break them and replace them with good habits, it can lead to some undesirable outcomes. But once we repeat a behavior a few times, it becomes ingrained and sticks with us…out of habit. Human beings like routine, so a habit, be it good or bad, represents routine and safety. We know it. I call this being comfortably uncomfortable. Ahhh, says our subconscious, this feels comfortable, predictable, safe. Positive or negative, good or bad, it is routine, it is safe. We gravitate to safe like a bee to honey.
The key to changing these habits and behaviors is consistency. You’ve probably heard the saying that habits are formed. Well, that’s true. We aren’t born with them and no one tells us what habits to have. We develop them over time, by doing them over and over. In a study done by the European Journal of Social Psychology, they found that it took an average of 66 days to form a new habit. Sixty-six days!! No wonder it is so tempting to give up after a few days or a week, especially when the new habit is a less than desirable one like working out or changing eating habits.
Beginning a new, healthier or positive habit takes work in the beginning, but like any other habit, it will take hold and become routine. As you begin to feel better and see positive changes in your life, it will help to keep you motivated and on track. Staying the course is imperative if you are to give it a chance to stick. Consistency builds momentum, which increases motivation, which ensures success.
Baby steps. If you want to start working out, pick something that is at least intriguing to you. If you like being outdoors, decide you will hike one day a week. If you like to run, decide to run 1-2 days a week for only a short time. You don’t have to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro on your first hike (in fact, I don’t recommend it) or run 5 miles a day, 5 days a week. Once you’re used to the routine add to it and little by little you will have established a new, more positive routine or habit. Keep in mind, it’s important not to break the new routine. Remember the 66-day theory.
Eventually, it will become predictable, safe and automatic.
Break it down.
The same goes for breaking a habit. Let’s say you want to break the habit of watching too much television or drinking too much soda. Start small. Break it down into smaller chunks. For one night a week, don’t watch any television after 5PM or drink one less soda a day and build from there.
Whether you’re breaking a bad habit, forming a new positive habit or replacing a bad habit with a good one, the keys are to break it down i to smaller chunks and to be consistent.
If you have any doubt that consistency is the key to success when breaking habits and forming new ones, think Venus Williams, Michael Jordon, YoYo Ma, the list is endless.