Habits...we all have them. Ones we need to consciously think about and ones that are so ingrained we could do them in our sleep. There are ones we like and those we have a more complicated relationship with. There are the ones we think of first when you hear the word "habit" and there are ones you're not even aware of, not yet at least. Habits anchor our days, set rhythm and routine, bolster or break health, and are the steadfast behaviors we rely on to do bigger, grander things. Without habits, most of us would be awash in a mix of unorganized actions strung sloppily together until we passed out from exhaustion. Yes, habits conserve a significant amount of energy because they our brain's way of reducing the energy it takes to get through the day.
For some, the mere mention of habits causes an uptick of anxiety and overwhelm...if this is you, your probably of the mindset that habits are hard to come by, hard to break, and hard to form. And your right...to some degree. Forming and breaking habits IS effortful, because the new actions you are taking to form or break the habit is not a habit, yet. Behaviors that are not habitual require a lot of energy. So our brain doesn't like it, making the process challenging... unless you break it down!
This breaking down is what I spent a large part of my graduate education in occupational therapy (OT) school learning about. Discussion, research, and theory around habits and health abound in the occupational therapy literature. Why you may ask? Well OTs help individuals engage in their desired and necessary daily activities in spite of physical, emotional, mental, environmental, social, or even sensory challenges to engagement. So essentially, if you are finding it challenging to do what you want or need to do because of _______ (stress, broken arm, depression, sensitivity to sound, overcrowded work environment, bullying, pain or anything else creating disruption in your day), occupational therapists are THE best health professional to help you get to where you want to go. You don't need to be sick, disabled or injured to benefit from OT... in fact I mostly work with pregnant and postpartum women who often are the "picture" of health on the outside, yet are finding something in their day to day disruptive to their routines and habits.
Enough about what I do, lets get back to how breaking down habits can help you grow or break a habit...
What is breaking down a habit? Let me explain this through an example...
You want to begin a meditation routine and have a goal of 15min per day. You have tried sitting down for 15min and it simply doesn't happen... here are some ways to break it down:
-What is the tiniest little piece of that desired goal habit that you can begin doing?
How about sitting for 1min or taking 10 deep breaths or pausing to admire a flower for 30sec?
-What place are you most likely to do this?
Maybe your favorite chair, at your desk, on your bed or on a bench in the park?
-When do you feel most ready to meditate?
Is it as soon as you get home from work, first thing in the morning, after dinner?
Once you decide on those details, how does beginning the habit of meditating feel now?
Another way is to combine your meditation with another already automatic habit...everyday when you arrive home you put your keys on the hook and go pee then sit for 1 min on your favorite chair to meditate... could stringing the 3 tasks together push or nudge your closer to the ultimate habit? Does the process sound a little easier now?
Now you have taken a tiny bite out of your desired habit, and as you have success with this "tiny habit" allow it to grow. 1-min becomes 2-min which becomes 5-min and before you know it your at 15-min... voila! A habit is forming, your brain is conserving energy, and added bonus, since this is meditation, your brain has now begun to function more optimally by turning on the rest and digest (parasympathetic nervous system) everyday --- but that's for another blog post...
What habit will you begin tapping into through this approach? Share in the comments below!
Hilary Valentine, Owner of Windward Maternal Wellness
I was born and raised in Massachusetts but I have called Oahu my home for the past 14 years. I live with my family in Kailua, including my husband, Jason, my daughters, Victoria and Gwendolyn and my parents, Nanette and Geoff. This blog is intended to shine light on both my work as a women's health occupational therapist and postpartum doula, my personal views on lifestyle topics such as parenting and women's health as well as a resource for education on topics relevant to the clients I serve. I welcome any and all comments and feedback! Mahalo!