Inside the Mind of a Habit Former

Ten things I’ve learned from the past few months of developing a new habit

Photo by Lala Azizli on Unsplash
Photo by Andrew Tanglao on Unsplash
  1. If I don’t put it on my to do list, I won’t do it. That is simply who I am. I’m old school. While others use productivity apps or calendars on their phones as reminders, I write things down on a to-do list. Over time, I realized that without seeing the actual task on paper, I don’t recognize it as important enough, and therefore, I don’t do it. There’s something about having a tangible plan that convinces you it’s worth doing.
  2. If I don’t make it a priority it won’t happen. Shane Parrish, known for his podcast, “The Knowledge Project,” once interviewed Amelia Boone, an obstacle racer and ultra runner (dubbed the Queen of Pain), for this episode, in which he drilled in on her habits and why she’s been so successful at what she does professionally (she’s a corporate lawyer) and personally, and what she said really stuck out with me. In a simple sentence, she reiterated the fact that, “You do have time, it’s just not a priority.” It made me realize that by shifting my time around and including the activity of running as part of my regular routine, hence a priority, then I am much more likely to commit.
  3. Practice and repeat. I’m not going to lie. At first, it was painful. To this day, I still feel a slight pain whenever I run. It’s the initial first two laps when I’m trying to control my breathing while also taking in my environment. Trying to absorb everything while simultaneously listening to music and keeping my body moving turned out to be much harder than I thought. But instinctively, I knew that I am the type of person who doesn’t quit (at least not normally) before the show ends. Since I’ve already committed myself to this time and made the effort to begin, I might as well continue. This shift in mindset has dramatically helped my ability to continue, despite the discomfort.
  4. Cue and reward. This is incredibly important, as human beings are inclined to desire things that makes us happy, and we’re willing to work for it. In “The Rocket Years,” Segran mentioned just how important this really is — having a cue is something that propels you towards that activity, but in order to be successful, you must also have a reward attached to it. For example, new clothing or chocolate afterwards. As much as I love chocolate, I couldn’t imagine eating it for fear of additional calories; plus, I wasn’t in such a lucky position to be able to afford new clothes every time I worked out. Thus, my cue became the act of putting on my shoes in the morning, so much that after awhile, my kids began to cheer me on, which, as a result, acted as a reward for me. My son would always say, “Are you going on a run?” I’d say, “Yes,” to which he’d reply with a grin, “Go get sweaty!” I can’t tell you how much this makes me happy.
  5. Lack of desire is going to happen. If you’ve just recently began to implement a new habit, expect that there are days when you won’t feel like doing it at all, when you crave comfort — staying at home and browsing my phone sounded so much better than putting on running shoes, I thought — but then I realized that the neighbors were waiting for me. Nature was waiting for me. The place where I run — a local park — is filled with runners, people who exercise, and who do it regularly. And I can imagine that at some point they felt no desire to do it either…and yet they do. So I felt like it was in my best interest to join this group of people.
  6. It gets worse before it gets better. Pain, I’ve discovered, is more prevalent when it’s mental. When I began running, I’d experience the cramps in my legs after three laps, and I’d slow down. I could feel my legs dragging on and in my mind, I’d think, “Oh my god, I’m dying. I should stop.” But I didn’t. That’s because I realized that it was all in my head. Not only that, the people around me were going, going, going, and I felt like I couldn’t let myself down, for fear of humiliating myself. Over time, and slowly it got better, to the point where I felt myself getting stronger. My body (legs, especially) had gotten used to the distances and it was no longer painful.
  7. You will have less time for other things but you will gain more momentum in your life. Let’s face it — opportunity costs exists everywhere, even in hobbies and activities. To be able to do anything well, one must be willing to put in time and effort, which takes away time for other tasks that may be important to you. As for me, I lost out on time I could’ve spent reading and enriching my mind, but at the same time, I lost weight and felt better physically. The trade off was much better than I had anticipated. The simple joy of being outdoors and seeing my neighbors exercising was enough for me.
  8. Being successful in one habit will help you change other habits. This is similar to the domino effect — that once you begin one habit successfully, which turns into a hobby (something you enjoy doing, whereas a habit is simply something that you do), you will instinctively readjust other aspects of your life. For example, I’ve gained the willpower to resist chocolate and to overeat. Snacks are a thing of the past. And when I do snack, it’s usually just fruit. I love carbs, but only eat it for breakfast…all because I am now consciously aware that in order to be an all-around fit person, it takes more than exercise. Nutrition matters a lot.
  9. It takes a lot longer to develop good habits. Honestly, whenever I try to come with reasons why I stopped running after my first 5K, I couldn’t come up with anything other than the fact that I was busy. I was on autopilot, shuttling my kids back and forth from daycare, trying to get them fed for dinner, their baths done, and go to bed at a reasonable time. I was so immersed in the world of a “busy parent” that I didn’t stop to ponder or to decide what was more of a priority for me. I cannot say that I won’t fall into this trap again in my future, but I can definitely say that I am more aware of how things can be when I use my time intentionally, when opportunity costs are considered, and when basic needs are met.

Editor @ BooknBrunch. Writer who focuses on Asian American identity, language & culture; occasionally business and finance. More at hoangsamuelson.com

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