Changing habits

Car habitMy twin daughters are both learning to drive at present. I’ve only just recovered from helping my elder daughter learn, two years ago! If you drive, can you remember how strange it felt at first, how much concentration it demanded. Synchronizing gear and clutch, regulating your speed and direction, being aware of other road users and predicting their next move.

Today, I don’t consciously engage in the task of driving – likewise I don’t consciously think about how to tie up my shoe laces or walk (try thinking about how you walk and tell yourself out loud what to move!). Reflecting at my keyboard its quite frightening how we rely on our unconscious mind and embedded habits to propel a large metal box at great speed.

I have repeatedly touched on how much of what we do is habit. Our brains process millions of messages a day – putting most of our activities on automatic pilot makes us more efficient. If we did have to consciously engage in tying our shoe laces, or driving, then we would end up exhausted.

The downside is, we also get into habits that are unhelpful. I’ve recently been looking at some of our unhelpful thinking habits, and this is quite a recurring theme in building self confidence and self esteem. But we also have behavioral habits and routines that don’t help us. The classic is automatically switching on the television set when we get home, and wasting hours of our lives watching rubbish!!!

I’ve recently changed one of my habits. Traveling to and from work I was in the habit of listening to the radio. I’m sure many others do the same thing. Recently I discovered a device that enables me to listen to my MP3 player through my cassette player (I have an old car!). Now I listen to some great podcasts or motivational and self improvement talks as I commute to work.

Listening to the radio again (when my batteries went flat!) I couldn’t believe how banal and idiotic it sounded. So that was a successful change of habit. There is a relatively new school of thought with a long name – Framework for Internal Transformation (FIT) – that believes that changing our (behavioral) habits is a better way of facilitating long term change, rather than trying to change our thinking habits.

The FIT theory is based on all our habits being interlinked. So changing one habit or routine can have a knock on effect on a bad habit you want to change – such as smoking or over eating. Regularly (daily) making a point of doing things differently or trying something new helps chip away at those ingrained habits, making us more flexible.

One of the common factors in the unhelpful thinking is how rigid, how black and white, the different habits are. So I would go along with the FIT approach in that trying to make ourselves less rigid and set in our ways is going to be beneficial. I still think its worth challenging our thinking habits as well.

The bottom line is habits can stand in the way of change, of fulfilling our potential. New habits give you a new way of exploring and viewing the world, enhancing your self esteem and building self confidence. Worth a try?

David Leonhardt - The Happy Guy June 30, 2008 at 2:53 am

Habits are absolutely the best way to make any major change…especially if the change goes against one’s natural grain. Once something is converted into a habit, we can usually move on to the next change we want to make.

David Leonhardt – The Happy Guy’s last blog post..Sleep your way to happiness

Maria - Never the Same River Twice June 30, 2008 at 3:42 pm

Interesting, David. I’m going to have to take a look at FIT. Since humans have a tendency to become more rigid as we get older, it’s very important to consciously work on our mental, emotional and physical flexibility all the time.

Maria – Never the Same River Twice’s last blog post..Be Proactive to Increase Your Inner Peace

David June 30, 2008 at 9:50 pm

David – I seem to go on about habits, but they do dominate our lives. I’ve since read an estimate that 85% of what we do each day is “unconscious”.
Maria – I’ve not read a great deal about FIT myself, just one article. I notice their is a diet book based around it though!!!

David’s last blog post..Changing habits

Karen (karooch from Scraps of mind) July 1, 2008 at 12:15 am

I totally agree David. It’s only when you replace something like listening to commercial radio or TV with another activity that you fully realise how it has been numbing your brain for so long.

Evan July 2, 2008 at 7:19 am

Hi David,

I haven’t investigate FIT (FITT?).

As to whether changing behaviour is the best way to bring long-term change: it probably depends on what the change is that we want.

If it is external change then behavioural change is the way to go. If it is internal joy then exterior change may just replace one unhelpful distraction with another. Eg turning off the car radio and replacing it with reminiscing on My Greatest Mistakes, the all-time top 20, probably won’t bring the change we desire.

I think good habits are very beneficial and add much simplicity to our lives.

David July 2, 2008 at 10:45 pm

Perhaps I shouldn’t have used the radio as an example, as my understanding of FIT is that you are not focusing on replacing a bad habit with a good one.
The theory of FIT is that our thought processes and behaviors become automatic, and these habitual responses gradually snare us in a “habitweb”. Changing regular simple habits (sitting in a different seat at the dinner table, buying a different newspaper – which don’t have to be permanent changes) helps break this habitweb – small habits will have a chain reaction to bigger ones.
To me it sounds interesting and worth considering – whether it works is another question?!

David’s last blog post..Changing habits

Jenna July 3, 2008 at 4:58 pm

I know your girls are excited! I remember driving with my learner’s permit and having my mom in the passenger seat stomping the floor board for the breaks. Haha.

Jenna’s last blog post..Domestic Violence, Substance Abuse and Men

David July 3, 2008 at 6:20 pm

Today they both passed their theory test. At last they will stop asking us what various road signs mean, when we haven’t a clue!

David’s last blog post..Changing habits

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: