Though we are now almost a week into the new year, it seems like today is the somewhat “official” start of our 2014 daily routines. With this in mind, I thought it might be a good idea to address an overlooked aspect of habit changes: making sure they are balanced.
When we seek to alter our habits we often do one of two things:
1) We decide to eliminate an old habit – such as excess TV watching, smoking, fast food, or even toxic relationships.
2) We decide to implement a new habit – such as creating a private victory routine, working out on Tuesday nights, or making homemade lunches more often.
Sometimes making these shifts is relatively easily, and sometimes it can be quite challenging.
I believe that habit shifts are more difficult to accomplish if they are not tied to a true intention. Or, if they have a guiding intention, they can still cause trouble if they are imbalanced.
What is a balanced habit?
A balanced habit involves both what you want to include and what you want to remove.
When we don’t take the time to consider both sides of the habit equation we can often find ourselves mired in frustration and inaction.
We may know what we want to add to our lives, but we can be unaware of what we need to subtract from our lives in order to free up time or space for the new habit.
The subtraction issue is common particularly when it comes to anything that involves time. Getting up earlier for workouts, mediation, or private victories, is often difficult not because we don’t want to, but because we never stop to consider that it may require us to shift our evening habits.
We might have to stop watching that last episode before bed in order to get up earlier. That habit shift might be the one we really need to pay attention to first, in order to fulfill our early morning vision.
Or, perhaps we want to spend more time with our partners in the evening. We must assess our life and find where that time will no longer be spent. Spending more time with our loved ones requires us to shift our time spent on another priority first.
On this front I have good news:
From all of the clients that I’ve worked with, I have rarely (actually, never) found a case where someone wanted to add a habit to their lives and did not have an available pocket of time for that habit.
The challenge is to recognize that the present time slot is not being used to your best use, and to overcome any mental resistance to making that shift.
It is also imperative to consider a replacement habit if you are seeking to remove an old habit.
For example, I used to eat Trader Joe’s Reduced Guilt Mac and Cheese everyday for lunch for about a year and a half. I loved everything about the little light blue boxes of joy. They were easy to make, tasty, and quick to eat.
However, my consciousness towards this this habit slowly shifted. Though my ego was quite happy with this lunch routine, the deeper part of me knew that eating the same frozen meal for the next 20 years would not support my overall wellbeing.
As my intuitive resistance grew towards the mac and cheese habit, I never took the time to discover a suitable meal alternative. I didn’t want to waste energy on finding a more nutritious and equally fast and tasty option. So I stopped buying mac and cheese, but never knew what when the clock struck twelve.
Let me tell you, as someone who doesn’t want to have to make a decision about food at lunchtime, I was going crazy scrounging up something to eat everyday.
Eventually, I realized that I needed to spend some time figuring out what I did want to eat in order to escape the frustrating habit shift. The pain of not having a replacement meal became much greater than the loss of my beloved mac and cheese.
It took a bit of experimentation, but I’ve finally found my lunch alternative: homemade tofu and kale lasagna. Mr. Lively bakes me a pan of it every few weeks that I split it into pieces and freeze.
Though lacking a replacement habit is a more uncommon habit imbalance, we must recognize that killing an old habit requires the development of a new one, consciously chosen or not.
If you find that you are making a few shifts this week, I hope you take the time to consider both sides of the habit equation:
What are you removing and what are you including?
You deserve to find the fulfillment and joy that comes with an intention-based life – no more shoulds, shame, or “one day” thinking required.
Work with me one-on-one to find a balanced way to live a better life.