As life starts to return to our previous version of normal, we have a unique opportunity to retrain some of our old habits. We can start on a ‘fresh’ template and make sure we are prioritising the things we’ve come to realise are essential. Things like our health and eating habits, our rest, and our thoughts and emotions.
As we start work again, we have the opportunity to keep prioritising these things, breaking old habits of back-to-back consultations with no lunch breaks, working early and late, grabbing take-outs multiple times a week, and living off caffeine to keep going.
Every habit is made up of three parts, explains Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. A ‘cue’ sets the habit off, then we go through a ‘routine’, and finally we reap the familiar ‘reward’.
Every habit yields some reward; it may not be good for us in the long term, but there is always some perceived reward or need that is met by performing the habit. This means that getting rid of a habit is difficult; the underlying need is still there, and will require something to fulfil it.
Because our habits are formed subconsciously, we often don’t realise we have them, or what their triggers are. According to Duhigg, it is worthwhile identifying a particular habit and spending a week documenting every time we perform it. Create a table, and every time you perform the behaviour, document the time, what you did, how you were feeling, where you were, who you were with – include all aspects that are relevant to that habit. Creating this table can help you identify the patterns you have fallen into.
I recently did this, documenting the time I woke up, what and when I ate and drank throughout the day, and when I went to sleep. I kept it up for a week. Wow, was that revealing! Seeing what I did written down on paper opened my eyes to the fact that I had a problem that was solvable, and gave me the motivation to take the next step towards finding the solution. Before I did this, I was pretty sure I ate healthily and just drank too much coffee. Turns out I have more of a problem with sugar than I thought, and I wasn’t eating nearly as well as I’d told myself I was!
Where to now?
Author James Clear (Atomic Habits) gives the following advice on kicking bad habits in the butt, and creating long lasting good habits that will stick.
Choose a substitute
Plan ahead! Choose the behaviour you want to adopt to replace the old habit; a new behaviour that will meet the underlying need in a better way. Plan ahead of time how you will respond and what course of action you will take when you feel the urge to perform your bad habit.
Cut out the triggers
Your environment is set up right now to indulge your bad habits. Change your environment to make performing the substitute action easier, and the bad habit harder.
Share your plans with those who love and support you, and find someone to hold you accountable as you set out creating new habits to replace the old. As Sasha Foster teaches us, our work environment should be in line with our personal goals, so that we not only achieve fantastic patient outcomes, but also so that each team member gets to meet personal goals and needs during the course of the work you do.
Surround yourself with people who are already engaged in the good habits you are working to adopt. We tend to adopt the behaviours of the people we spend time with. It is worth considering this carefully as you embark on the journey of resetting behaviour patterns.
Our mind is powerful. Spend time thinking about and practising new behaviours in your mind before you attempt to perform them. See yourself succeeding and enjoying the success. Out with the old thoughts, and in with the new!
This process is not about you becoming someone you are not; it is about returning to who you were before the bad habit, and being true to yourself and your needs. The best thing you can do for you is to look after yourself, let go of the things that are not good for you, and take on the things that are. That is being true to yourself.
Speak to yourself in a new way
It is easy to judge ourselves harshly. This behaviour is just another habit that needs to be replaced. When you find yourself saying mean things to yourself, change your strategy. Instead of berating yourself, tell yourself what you are doing about it, and how you are going to overcome it. Don’t focus on the negative; shift your thoughts to the solution you have already decided on.
Plan for failure
You are human, and there are going to be days and times when you don’t get it right – welcome to the club. We all go there, often! Instead of getting stuck in a setback, plan for it and create a strategy for getting back on track, before the time. And honestly, just keep going.
You’ve got this
At Onlinepethealth, we say ‘you’ve got this!’ When one of us is hitting a rough spot and struggling to get through our projects, this is what we say to each other. And that is what I want to say to you now. You can do this – whatever it is that you need to let go of, you can find the root need, and you can meet that need in a new, healthy, constructive way.
You’ve got this!
Atomic Habits, James Clear
The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg