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Habits & Holidays

This holiday reminded me again that maintaining a habit is not the most difficult when you are really busy, have a really full schedule. No, maintaining a habit is much more difficult during holidays or weekends.

I have routine of starting my day with alone time/me time. After I get up, I meditate or do yoga, followed by some journaling. During normal weekdays I have no problem keeping up this routine. But during my holiday there were so many days where I didn’t do it.

Why? Because often other routines act as cues for doing this particular activity.

In my case- this morning routine is already started by my alarm going off. My alarm going off is the start of a string of actions, each action the cue for the next action. Alarm-get out of bed immediately (no snoozing!)- go to bathroom- meditate- journal. It is an automatic sequence, I don’t think about it, I just do it automatically, just like brushing my teeth.

During the holiday, I don’t set my alarm. So, I wake up later, read a bit, or doze a bit and then get up. In this case the automaticity of my normal string of activities is not started. My meditation + journaling routine is built on the routine of getting out of bed immediately after hearing my alarm. When this routine is not started then the next part of my morning routine also is not started. And now meditating and journaling becomes something I have to consciously decide to do. Which is much more difficult and taxing for the brain! Suddenly it requires willpower to do it.

Existing activities/habits are powerful cues that set in motion other activities/habits.
If you want to add a new positive habit to your life, you can use this knowledge to your advantage. Habit stacking- adding a new activity to an already existing habit/routine helps you to build new habits more easily. The automaticity is already in place, you are just adding an extra element/activity to it. Which makes it easier to automate this new behaviour. Over time, the already existing routine will serve as powerful cue that automatically starts this new behaviour.

Do you want to build a new habit? Stack it on an already existing habit!
E.g. if you want start meditating, brushing your teeth might be the routine you stack it on. After brushing my teeth (in the morning or evening) I will meditate 5 minutes. In the beginning you will have to think about it and decide to meditate after brushing your teeth. But over time, after a lot of repetition, you will automatically sit down to meditate after you have brushed your teeth. You won’t need conscious decision making and willpower any more.

Do you want to know more about building habits or breaking bad habits? Wendy Wood brings together the latest science in her book.  Good habits, bad habits. The science of making positive changes stick.

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© Copyright Samula Mescher