As each week of the Do-Over Project passes, I am more and more convinced of a single truth: change happens when we interrupt the negative patterns in our lives and don’t interrupt the good ones.
Humans are creatures of habit. We want habits because they make life easier for us. Like driving a standard vehicle. At first, it’s hard as you pay attention to every little detail of driving. After a time, you just do it.
It’s important that some stuff in our life is automatic. How would it be if we had to pay attention to every stroke of a toothbrush or every step we take in the dressing process?! When some things are automatic, it frees up our brain to do other stuff. Like when I’m running. I don’t have to pay attention to every footfall, which frees my brain up to solve problems (or let my creativity spin stories as move along.
Of course, too much automatic thinking is also a problem. That’s why mindfulness training has become so popular. We’ve become a society that multi-tasks everything and pays attention to nothing. Shoveling food into our mouths mindlessly helps drive the obesity epidemic. Driving while distracted by cellphones and radios and friends talking has led to more than one car accident.
But back to my original thought…some automatic habits are good–especially if they’re good habits!
How can we use this automatic ability humans have to create good habits? It’s understanding the role interruption plays in habit-forming.
For example, when I started my new job three months ago, I had to keep track of every moment between the time I woke up and the time I left the house, lest I take too long on one task, which would make me leave the house a few minutes late and, invariably, miss the bus.
Now the alarm goes off, I go through my routine without ever checking the clock because I can feel when I’m falling behind. My morning routine has become a habit.
Interrupt my routine and failure is sure to follow! Let’s say my husband has a dentist appointment in the morning and doesn’t leave until after me. Now he’s underfoot in the bathroom, hits the coffee maker before me and just generally makes a nuisance of himself (I love you, dearheart!).
If he lost his job and was now underfoot all the time, we’d adjust and make it work. That would now be our habit.
So, to create a new habit or get rid of one you don’t want, you need to interrupt the pattern.
If I was a pack a day smoker and one day ran out of cigarettes and couldn’t get anymore (say I was iceberg surfing in Antarctica and there were no corner stores), my smoking habit would be interrupted.
Maybe the next day there’s a supply drop and I get more cigarettes, but because my pattern was interrupted, I at least have the idea that it’s possible to be smoke free. Maybe I go back to my smoking habit or maybe I don’t, but once I know something, I can’t unknow it! I now know I can do without cigarettes. The simple act of interrupting the pattern made me mindful of another choice.
Like most things in life, being mindful (even temporarily) of your patterns is the catalyst for change.
With the Do-Over Project, the act of writing in my journal every day is becoming a habit. When I interrupt the pattern, I feel like I’m missing something in my day. If I interrupted my habit, say, for a week, it would be much more difficult to start again (anyone who’s ever stopped exercising for a time and tried to start again can attest to this!)
So, if you want to start a new habit, get a pattern started and don’t interrupt it. If you want to stop a habit, go ahead, break that pattern!
You don’t have to be perfect at it. Just the act of breaking the pattern once is enough to at least get you thinking mindfully about change and that’s how it all starts.
Here’s to making and breaking habits!