Friday, March 30, 2012

the power of habits

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about habits. Yes, habits. Gosh, just typing that word I can feel all of its negative connotations jumping off the screen.

So often we're trained to think of habits in such a negative way. Bad habits (biting your nails.) Drug habits (dark chocolate.) Unproductive habits. (watching YouTube videos of Ryan Gosling until your eyes burn... This one is new but frankly I'm in no particular rush to kick it.)

The point is, the word habit is negative because it usually renders people completely helpless to certain behaviors that are destructive. Know why? Because habits are powerful. Why does someone continue to buy cigarettes knowing good and well that they cause cancer? Okay, besides the fact that nicotine is addictive, it's because that behavior is so deeply wired into their routine, their life, even their psyche, that stopping seems nearly impossible.

So then I started to think. Why not use the power of habits for good and not evil. (And YES this does have to be a heroic battle of good vs. evil. I just saw Hunger Games last night and I'm in a bit of an epic-y, everything is a battle to the death kind of dramatic mood. Let's just go with it.)

For some context, let me describe to you my night tonight. I stepped away from my computer at about 5:00 to go workout with Jason at the basketball court. (Sidenote: Tonight it was what Jason likes to call a "last chance workout." For those of you out there that aren't Biggest Loser fans, this is the workout right before the weekly weigh-in where the trainers pretty much all but leave the contestants dead on the gym floor. I continue to try and convince Jason that we are NOT at the Ranch and I am NOT actually working out to literally save my life as many of those contestants are. In return, he continues to pretend he's Dolvett and hands out burpees like it's his job. [Click that link back there and you'll see why I'm cool with the pretending he's Dolvett part.] Okay, don't tell him, but secretly I'm glad he pushes me. If only because I'd never be able to willingly bring about that much pain on myself. Here's to hoping it pays off.) So we finished working out and stopped by the Fresh Market on the way home to get some groceries for dinner. When we got home, he went upstairs to edit his daily video, and I started making dinner to the sound of my Michael Buble Pandora station.

As I'm standing there, chopping up my fresh garlic for the roasted cauliflower and tapping my foot to Mr. Buble, I have a moment where I'm suddenly acutely aware of what I'm actually doing and I think, How in the world did this happen? I then sense the soreness in my quads. I, I feel achey all over... like I was using my muscles or something. I look down at the cutting board. And I'm COOKING! Like from a recipe. And it's CAULIFLOWER. How in the world did this happen??!

I don't know if this has ever happened to you, but something changes so slowly over time that you don't even realize it's becoming a habit.

Working out has always been tough for me, getting out there at least. But now that it's a part of my day, I no longer loathe it, because I expect it. I'm not a domestic person by nature. I've never been great in a kitchen, and I have a lot to learn, but somehow cooking has now become fun for me. Because it's that time after working out that I'm not sitting in front of my computer (which I am for most hours in the day) and I get to just try something new and see how it turns out. That too, has become programmed into my routine, and it's almost... a habit. Yes, there you have it, it's a habit.

The thing I have come to realize is that if you do something enough times, your psyche starts to do all the work for you. You're programming yourself in a way, and each time the effort on your part diminishes just a touch because it begins to feel more and more comfortable. Habits take hard things and make them easier!

So what's the point and why is this important? I think that this super simple lesson is something that everyone can keep in their back pocket when they want to change something about their lives but it seems too hard.

Want to workout more? Want to become a cook? Want to get better at something? Just start. And when you start, keep going. And when you want to stop, don't. Because slowly but surely, over time, the habitual nature of your mind will start helping you out, and pretty soon you'll look around and think How in the world did this happen? and you'll smile. Because you did it.

**Photo credit: This photo was used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user MrB-MMX. It has been altered. 


  1. If you don't have this book yet, you should order it asap. It's a big help in the kitchen, and let's you use your creativity while having a guide to direct you to the best flavor matches. The book is called The Flavor Bible and you can get it on Amazon for about $20. Sorry it wouldn't allow me to post a link on my phone. Have a great day! -Halter

  2. First, I saw Hunger Games last night too! Second, recipe cooking! Yay! Third, I think we share a mind/ life in an alternate universe sometimes. Love you!