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Really truly adopting new habits

Morning jog with the dogs

I've been thinking a lot about how hard it is to embrace new habits, to the extent that they are just a part of my day to day life. As evidence that coaches struggle with the same challenges as our clients, here's a short list of habits that I continue to struggle to make a part of my regular day:

--- Keeping house, office, car clutter-free

--- Exercising daily

--- Drinking less wine

--- Meditating when I wake up

--- Reading more books

--- Writing weekly blog posts... (!)

We now know so much about what it means to embody new habits, and to embark on sustained behavior change. So much of it has to do with how human beings are hard wired (see the recent NY Times article on procrastination for example). So part of the solution has to do with setting up new paths in our brains that through regular practices become like a river running through a canyon - that is our default subconscious go-to behavior.

Habits and behaviors also have to do with the hidden stories, interpretations and judgements we make about ourselves and others. In their book Immunity to Change, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey explore the ways in which individual beliefs and collective/organizational mindsets make us immune to enduring change. Dr. Lahey writes about this in brief in this Vox article. In their approach, it is only by making explicit these hidden beliefs and assumptions that you can begin to really embrace new habits and ways of being.

I'm not sure what my hidden commitments or underlying beliefs are about the changes I keep trying to make. I do know that I have firmly entrenched neurological loops that are at the core of my entrenched habits. This loop is described at length in Charles Duhigg's book, The Power of Habit. It includes three parts: a cue, a routine or a habit, and a reward. To establish new habits, you need to identify the routing, experiment with the rewards, and isolate the cue. You then "have a plan," which begins with one small action or practice you can commit to that can actually establish new neurological loops.

For example, in trying to get back into a daily exercise routine, I put my running shoes near the door where I am more likely to put them on before walking the dogs (a cue), I go for a vigorous walk or a run (or if it's cold a, and then I get to have a tasty snack and I feel really good the rest of the day (a reward). It's a work in progress.

What habits do you have that you'd like to change? What has worked or not worked in the past?

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