Well, it’s back to work again. First work day of a new year. I know it sounds strange, but I have to admit I feel a wee bit of relief! Now before you go and label me a Scrooge – I enjoy the Christmas season as much as anyone. But Christmastime is inherently disruptive. Typically, we all get a little time off work, perhaps travel somewhere we rarely go, or distant relatives visit, family budgets get stretched, we change our meal schedules, kids are out of school – it can all end up being more than a little chaotic! Sometimes it can feel like you need a holiday from Christmas holidays!
In that sense, getting back to the familiar routines of our work life can bring a sense of relief. Things can finally get back to ‘normal’. It tells us something about the importance of routines in our lives. Like the apps on your smart phone, routines are busy working in the background, often without us really being aware of them. They get us up in the morning and dressed for the day ahead; they get us to work down familiar paths; they organize our desks, dictate what we eat for lunch, and who we even choose to talk to.
In fact, I could go so far as to say that it is our particular collection of routines that define us as individuals! If you stripped away all the little habits and patterns that drive us, we wouldn’t even be recognizable! To a great extent - we are our routines. And that’s not all bad! If we couldn’t count on each to follow predictable patterns of behaviour, well… we just wouldn’t be able to count on each other would we?
But not all of our routines are beneficial. Some are seriously counter-productive. Perhaps, liking drinking too much alcohol, they provide a short-term gain for us. But usually at the price of some longer-term pain. And when self-destructive behaviours become routines - predictable patterns in your life, then future pain is virtually guaranteed. And the more pain you send into your future, the more painful your life will be when you get there!
Where am I going with all of this? Maybe just to remind all of us that we are ultimately the master of our habits, not the prisoner of them. They became habits in the first place because we repeatedly chose to behave a certain way. Eventually it became a routine. Then a habit. Then a part of our personality. Ergo - if we formed these habits, we can also form new ones; better ones that replace some of the old ones.
So instead of just making a New Year’s resolution this January, why not try this?
- Sit down and identify the 3 most detrimental habits in your life.
- Think hard about why you do them – what’s the pay-off, however short-term it may be?
- Now ask yourself, could I achieve the same pay-off some other way? Without the bad consequences?
- Then figure out a new way to get to same pay-off and start doing it. Over and over.
- Give it at least 30 days. Old habits are easy to keep repeating. But that means new behaviours will get easier and easier too. Eventually the new routine will shift to the background and keep you on track without you even knowing it.