Recognizing Old Habits
I raised a son who is an analyzer extraordinaire. When our family (eight adults and five young kids) decided to spend a week together in one house for a vacation we’d never forget, our son got to work finding the perfect house for our crew. He pored over the listings and finally found a home that was built just a few months ago. It had everything we needed: bedrooms and bathrooms for us all, a large kitchen/dining/living area, outside decks and patios and lanais, and even a pool for everyone to enjoy.
When we arrived, though, we learned it also had something we didn’t need—a ground floor made up of a laundry room, bathroom, and kids’ bedroom along with a sliding door leading out to a gorgeous pool.
With the remaining living and sleeping spaces on the second and third floors, our thoughts immediately went to a place of concern. We could visualize waking up in the morning to one of our greatest fears. Let’s face it: a kids’ room placed next to the door leading to a swimming pool wasn’t the best design element.
Our thoughts swirled to how we’d make the sleeping arrangements work. Which adults would be willing to climb those bunk ladders so the kids wouldn’t be the ones sleeping on that level? And did grandparents get a free pass out of this? (My husband and I hoped so!) As we debated on how to make it all work, we heard a loud screeching sound. My son, Mr. Analyzer himself, unlocked and opened the sliding door at which point an alarm sounded.
It took us what seemed like several minutes but was probably only a few seconds to determine how to make it stop. Next to the door was a button. We learned that before opening the door to go out or come back in, we needed to press the button to disengage the alarm. And if we left the door open too long (which turned out to be around 10 seconds), the alarm would sound again as well.
Developing New Habits
This alarm feature allowed our concerns to dissipate. It all sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. In our first couple of days at the house, we placed bets on which adult would make the alarm engage most frequently. For the first day, I think I was the winner of that contest.
What was it about that simple act of pressing the button that had me and other family members so flustered? It went against our habit of opening a sliding glass door like we’d always done before—that is, without pressing a button.
As the week went on, we heard fewer and fewer alarm screeches. And interestingly, when my husband and I arrived back home after seven days away, I caught myself more than once trying to press a button that wasn’t even there when opening our own sliding glass door.
Habits are patterns of behavior that are deeply wired by constant repetition into our brains. They become so ingrained we don’t even notice that each time we go to the kitchen to refill our glass of water, we also grab a handful of chips. Or each time Mary Anne in marketing speaks up at a meeting, we doodle on our agenda and completely tune her out, leaving us in the dark when projects she proposes get the green light for implementation. Or each time we have an amazing opportunity that would catapult us to the next level of success in life, we overanalyze it and procrastinate on moving forward thus self-sabotaging the opportunity before us.
Or each time we get to the sliding glass door, we don’t hit the button to prevent that deafening screeching alarm.
The question is, what are we to do when we decide we’re ready to say no to the chips, say yes to Mary Anne, and bid overanalyzing adieu so we can move new opportunities forward? The first step is acknowledging that we really do want to make a change.
Recognizing the Payoff
James Clear shares how to break a bad habit in his article, “How to Break a Bad Habit and Replace It With a Good One.” The title gives away a secret only some people have learned:
In order to say goodbye to a bad habit, it’s necessary that we replace that habit with a good habit.
One reason it’s difficult to let the bad habits go is because we gain something from every bad habit we have. When clients share some of their bad habits with me and their desire to eliminate them, I always ask what payoff they’re getting by engaging in the habit. Not surprisingly, many don’t see that they actually do get a payoff every time. When we reach for the chips with each refilled glass of water, we are momentarily filling our need to…well, fill ourselves! When we tune out Mary Anne, we are gaining a few minutes of peace and quiet, a rarity in most of our work days. When we overanalyze and procrastinate on moving forward with new opportunities, we protect ourselves from possible failure.
The payoffs are there, but they’re not the type of payoffs we should be focusing on getting. Instead of filling up with chips, we could fill ourselves with the connection that comes from a phone call to a good friend. We could fill ourselves with industry knowledge and creative solutions when listening to Mary Anne at the meeting, and that opportunity for catapulting ourselves to greater levels of success might just be an invitation to join Mary Anne’s implementation team!
Since our vacation, I’ve thought more than once that it might be helpful to have an alarm sound each time I engage in one of my bad habits. I could press the “button” to remind myself to move to a good habit, a good payoff, instead. Rather than figuring out how to get a bad habit button, though, I think I’ll simply stay mindful of when I veer in the wrong direction for myself and focus on getting back on track with the good habits I work to implement each day.