I have a confession to make. It may make you laugh. My family thinks it’s hysterical. Over the past 2 ½ weeks, I’ve been obsessed with the TV show “New Girl”. I sat down to watch the pilot on Netflix and after a few shorts weeks, I’m already in the middle of Season 3. I’ve been watching the show religiously every night, averaging about 2.5 shows an evening. This is a big change for me as I typically only watch TV a few times week. But now, I sit down to watch it with a glass of red wine or a cup of tea (depending on the night), curl up on the couch and let myself be thoroughly and mindlessly entertained. A habit is supposedly formed by consistently doing the same thing every day for 28, 30, or even 40 days (depending on who you ask and where you look). So you may not call my "New Girl" routine a habit just yet, but it did get me thinking about habits and how some habits can be so easily formed and some habits can be so hard to break.
People spend a good deal of time and money trying to create positive habits and to break negative ones. They often look at the action of the habit itself, for example, smoking, running every morning, or flossing before bedtime. But there are a few other pieces to the habit puzzle that are more critical than the action itself. A habit also includes the desire we crave before we move into action and the outcome that immediately follows. Take my “New Girl” routine. It started with me looking for relaxation, which is the desire I craved. While I watched the first 4 episodes of Season 1, I laughed, gave my mind and body a break sitting on the couch and afterward felt renewed. Immediately, my mind drew the connection. Desire to relax > "New Girl"> Feel Better. It didn’t take more than a few days for me to realize that when I wanted to feel better; I sat to watch "New Girl".
One habit that I’m familiar with is around binge eating, as it started for me in my early teens. At the time, food was the only coping mechanism I knew to help me deal with overwhelming feelings. Even though I wasn't aware of it at the time, my desire was to not feel the intensity of my sadness, frustration, anxiety or anger. When I stuffed myself with food (maybe girl-scout cookies or M&M’s) I went numb and didn’t feel anything. The outcome of my binge eating habit was to take away the immediate discomfort (even though it was fleeting and ultimately I felt worse). This habit continued over the years by eating uncontrollably in response to stress, overwhelm or anything else that I wanted an escape from. I would try desperately to change this habit by trying to stop binge eating, like it was the cause and effect of my problems. The more I fought with the binge eating, the more energy I was giving to the one thing I desperately wanted to change. I realized, with mindfulness, awareness and compassion that acknowledging and not reacting to the the emotion was at the heart of dismantling this habit. It was then that I began to replace binge eating with a more loving habit.
Here is the thing. We make our habits and then our habits make us. The action of the habit can define us if we let it. We start to smoke and we become a smoker. We train for our first 5k and we become a runner. We stop eating meat and become a vegetarian. Look at your habits carefully; are they reflecting who you want to be and how you want to live? If not, look at the desire and the outcome of the habit itself. Is watching "New Girl" every night a reflection of how I want to live? Maybe not. But let me put it another way, is relaxing and laughing every evening how I want to live? Absolutely.