Practice

Habits: Prioritize for Change

Whoa There, Tiger

A steak with mushrooms and kale: slow-carb habits
See what you’ve been missing? HABITS IN ACTION!

But Gray, I thought you were going to practice the habit of posting pictures of everything you eat, in order to help follow along with the 4-Hour Body  Slow-Carb diet?!? I signed up to follow you on twitter and everything – even liked your Facebook page! How could you let me down like that?”

Well, first of all, if the only reason you signed up to Twitter was to watch what I was eating…well, I think I can safely say there are better uses of the medium.

Second of all, one of the key ideas that Leo Babauta talks about with habits is that it’s a bad idea to start too many at once.

Cascading Habits, Cascading Failures

Why not start several new habits at once? Isn’t that the way that people go through transformative processes? After all, the Marine Drill Instructors didn’t say “Hey, Gray, this week we’re going to have you cut your hair, next week you’ll wear this uniform, the following week you’ll start saying “sir” before and after every sentence.”

This is true. And in some cases, such as boot camps and rehab clinics and Disneyland, they do want you to change a whole bunch of habits at once. But they also set up an environment that will support the habits that are changed. The environment may make it difficult not to maintain the habit. You can’t really sleep in very easily when there’s a loudmouthed sergeant beating a garbage can near your head screaming “GETOUTTATHERACKGETOUTTATHERACKGETOUTTATHERACK!” So the habit of rising early is pretty effectively supported, along with other things.

Most of us can’t change our entire environments to support our habits. We can take some steps – in fact, it’s considered by some to be the most important part of new habits – but we can rarely change everything. In fact, even in environments such as Boot Camp, over half the recruits “wash out.” While that’s portrayed by some to be a “failure”, the reality is that it’s a realization: If I can change my environment completely to become a new person…I can also change it completely to go back to being the old person.

And so when your list of new year’s resolutions becomes too hard, you end up getting frustrated that you can’t have that latté because you gave up caffeine which means you’re sleepy going to yoga at 5am which means you slip and pull a hamstring during downward dog which makes you late to work which makes you miss your meditation time and by lunch you are scarfing down a deep-fried mushroom & cheesecurd double butter burger. The fact that you’ve broken one habit seems to have a waterfall effect that makes you give up on all of them.

I know this, not because I thought of it, but because I’ve done it more than once and read about the effects. So I decided not to do it this time.

Focus on What’s Important

It’s not to say I am not experiencing some benefits from just reading about the “slow-carb” diet. I am actually noticing a difference in how I feel when I focus on greens and legumes and meat, and forego the starches. While I’ve “cheated” almost every day, the awareness of when I’m not eating things that are unhealthy stays with me. Today I was offered an apple fritter and I took a bite, with every intention of eating the whole thing – but after a bite I put it back and chose to snack on some sunflower seeds and dried apples instead. That may not be a practice, or even a habit, but it was a good choice.

Meanwhile, I am focusing on the money part of things – trying to mark down precisely what I spend, what I have coming in, etc. It’s not easy, both because I have several streams of income and also because I notice that I am predisposed to not want to do it. I’ve noticed that I will seize on any excuse not to record a purchase (Oh, I don’t want to keep them waiting, I shouldn’t have my phone out, I’ll just do it later). And later gets put off more and more. I’ve found myself determined to remember some purchase, determined to record it when I get to a certain “stopping point” – and then hours later, I realize that point has come and gone and the purchase was still not recorded.

In other words, I am fighting against my own conditioned avoidance and inaction. I don’t like looking at money matters, which is why this is the part of my self I most need to quantify. Luckily, it’s also a fascinating experience to see the elaborate misdirections, tricks and hoops my subconscious will jump through to try and get out of establishing the habit.

And meanwhile, I’ve had a better awareness of my finances for the past week than I have for years. I won’t say that it’s pleasant – I still haven’t managed to “game-ify” money into something that’s fun – but at least there isn’t a fearful unknown.

There be monsters” has always been the scariest spot on the map…but it’s also often been the site of the Promised Land, for those who dare the journey.

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