Making good habits

So starting habits. Bad ones are easy to start and good ones are hard. Why is that? Bad ones are ones that can seem fun at first, even fun down the road, but they aren’t good for you in some way. It may not be healthy or somehow distracting you from what you should be doing.
 
Drinking is as simple as popping open a beer. And they seem harmless at first. “One beer today won’t hurt me,” you say. Then tomorrow it becomes two. Next month you’re drinking a six-pack every day and 10 years from now you’re a raging alcoholic. OK that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you can see how easy it would be to do that.
 
Good ones are things like exercising, eating healthier, spending more time with family.  These are things we all know are good for us, things we should be doing. And for some reason, they seem to be easier to start and easier to stick than easy ones.
 
Think about eating healthier. How much harder would it be to grab an apple instead of a candy bar? Or how about grabbing some water or fruit juice instead of a soda? Not much at all. But I tend to gravitate towards the unhealthy ones. Isn’t that odd?
 
I strive to pray and read the Bible daily. But why is it so hard to get into and stay in the habit? I read tons of stuff every day for entertainment. We spend so much time on social media, but can’t spend 5 minutes in prayer.
 
Why is that?
 
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. -Romans 7:15-20
 
This long exposition is exactly what I go through when I try to get myself right with my habits. I know what I should be doing, but I don’t do it. Why is that? It makes no sense.
 
We are sinful in nature and we know what we should be doing, but our sin nature won’t let us.
 
What is the answer? Well Paul tells us;
 
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! -Romans 7:25
 
So there is our answer. In the end Christ Jesus will deliver us from our sinful bodies into glory.
 
But there are things we can do today, to help replace our bad habits with good. Here is an article I came across to that gives some practical suggestions on how to make new habits stick.
 
But as usual, a common theme with me is to think small. So one of my favorites and the one that works the best for me is to start small.
 
Do something small. You want to exercise more? Well don’t join a gym right away or go commit to some huge complex program. Try something little. Try parking a little farther away from your office. Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Take a walk after dinner instead of watching TV. All little things that don’t cost you much in activity, but are easy to make a habit.
 
Want to read the Bible and pray more? Don’t try to become a monk on day one. Sit down and read a few verses. Read the same verse over a course of a week to commit it to memory.  Don’t worry about waking up an hour early to spend an hour in prayer. Take your commute time to pray instead of listening to the radio.
 
It’s amazing how even these little things can impact your life if you start doing them. And because they are little, they are easy to do every day. They won’t change your routine much, if at all and before you know it, they will become second nature.
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Practice Makes Permanent

For many of you that know me, you know that starting late 2001 I’ve been self-employed.  January of 2011, I took a job with a consulting / marketing firm in northeast Ohio as the Director of Technology Services.  Why you may ask?  Many, many reasons.

  • Money – Business had been slow the last couple years and cash flow wasn’t there.  It came down to a decision to keep doing what I was doing, but be broke, or get a steady paycheck.  I opted for that steady paycheck.
  • Opportunity – This was actually a big deciding factor.  I could stay on my own, trying to build a business with limited resources.  Or, I could join forces with this new company and have direct the technology side of the business with a team already in place (and added to over the last year).  I opted for the opportunity.
  • Camaraderie – When I was on my own, I had partners that I worked closely with, but I wasn’t with them every day.  We were all independent consultants and as such I believe we had separate goals with our business.  Some of us wanted to build something larger than ourselves, others were content with just making a wage.  This was probably the hardest reason for me to move on.  I miss working with those people as much as I do.  I still see a few, and I value that time with them, but it’s not as often as before.  I’m now at a company where I see my co-workers most every day, we all have the same goals in mind and are moving forward in the same direction.
  • Free time – This really is the main point of this post.  When I worked for myself, I felt like I never left work.  Weekends, evenings, holidays, it was all non-billable time that I wasn’t making any money.  I felt like I should always be working.  Now, I have paid vacation, paid holidays.  One of the biggest attractors for me taking this new position was so that I could now be free to relax off hours.  Well, that’s a bigger struggle than I realized.  Let me explain.

Letting go of work

Here I sit, using up the last bit of my vacation that I had left over this year.  Yes I’m able to sleep in. I’m able to spend time with my wife and children.  We are able to prepare and enjoy the time leading up to Christmas.  And all the while, I’m earning a paycheck.

So, why can’t I relax?  Why do I feel like I need to be working and that I’m not earning any money.  I see this vacation time as lost income, since that is what it was when I would take time off before.  I stress over spending money, since I feel we will have less of it now since I didn’t work this week.  I feel a bit guilty to my co-workers and my company that I’m not spending time working over the week.  In essence I’m driving myself and my wife nuts.

Practice makes permanent

Here’s where I think I went wrong.  For almost a decade I trained myself that if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t earning.  If I wasn’t earning, I wasn’t billing.  If I wasn’t billing, I wasn’t receiving any money.  If I didn’t receive any money, I was broke.  For all that time, any time off was missed opportunity for income. 

I’ve learned over the years that the old adage, “Practice makes perfect” is actually incorrect.  How it really goes is, “Practice makes permanent.”  That’s nothing new so I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it really hits home at this time of year especially when there is more time off and less work being done (and usually more bills to pay).  I practiced for 10 years to always be on the job.  Now that I don’t have to be, I’m finding that all that practice worked, it made that mentality permanent.

Retraining

Well what to do to fix my misguided programming:

  • First, realize what the problem is.  This is usually the first step to everything it seems…admit there is a problem, well there I’ve done it.
  • Next, determine the path I want to follow.  How do I want to be retrained?  What does the retrained me look like?  Well in this instance, I want to look forward to vacation and time off as a positive, as a reward for hard work.  Now I know how I want to react in the future.
  • Finally, the hard part.  Practice.  Practice at relaxing, practicing at letting work go for the holiday and enjoy the time off.  This won’t be easy.  This is exactly what the problem is now, but I must practice.  The good people at Lifehack (Lifehack in general is a very good resource) have a nice post on some steps to make new habits stick.  18 Habits to make new habits stick.  You can find tons more out there, just do a search on something like “30 days to a new habit” and you’ll find what you’re looking for.