Habits are amazing! Don't believe me?
I take it that when you left home this morning, you remembered to put your shoes on without even thinking about it. (To be fair, I forgot to take my shoes to the gym today but I was at least wearing another pair!) I'm hoping you also showered, ate breakfast and brushed your teeth. And I'm prepared to bet that you didn't have to think too hard about any of it. Why is that? Because of habits!
Our parents are to thank for much of this. It may have driven them crazy, but they spent the first two decades of your life teaching and reminding you that there are certain things we all have to do each day. [On a side note - next time you see your parents, you might like to thank them for the fact that you are now a functioning human being - more or less!]
I'm not sure that's the kind of habit that springs to mind for most of us, though. What do you immediately think when you hear the word 'habit'? Biting your nails? Going to bed late? Falling into the Netflix or YouTube vortex? We all have habits.
This month (November), we've set you another wellbeing challenge. This time, we asked you to either give up a bad habit or take up a good one. Personally I chose to take up a good one because I know that, once a habit is formed, it ceases to take so much willpower to do complete that task. I'm no psychologist, but habits are about neural pathways. Bad ones are tough to break, but once you've formed a habit and created a new neural pathway, your brain is almost hard-wired to follow that behaviour.
My new habit has been all about timers. For me, 'big' tasks are scary. It doesn't particularly matter what the task is, but if it has several steps then that's really daunting for me. My MA dissertation was definitely a big and scary task (and was how I learned to use timers, although I then lost the habit) but the same thing applies to housework, if we've been busy and it's built up. It's also the reason that some items sit indefinitely on my to-do list, particularly if I'm not sure what I'm doing. In recent years, I've discovered that it's to do with the way that my dyspraxic brain breaks down tasks - but it's a pain in the neck all the same.
So how do timers help with that? Once I can get started on a task, I inevitably find that I am capable of doing it after all and it won't take nearly as much trouble as I expected. I may not enjoy it, but I will be glad to have it off my list. It's getting started that's the trouble.
I've started setting timers for anything I find myself procrastinating over. When I start the dreaded task, I set a short timer (ten or fifteen minutes) during which I don't get distracted or check my phone - once it's finished, I'm allowed to stop. More often than not though, I can see the difference I have made and I actually want to continue.
If this resounds with you, you may find the app Forest helpful. It's designed for people who are easily distracted, but I like that it gives you a visual representation of how well you've concentrated. There are many other apps that help too - or there's the timer that's probably built into your phone.
Which habit did you decide to start/break, and how did it go? If you missed out on the challenge at the start of November, no worries - you can start right now. 1st January is not the only day you can make a change. We'd love to hear how you get on.