I used to love wandering around as a kid. Together, my brothers and I would wander around our village during the holiday seasons of Easter and Christmas till we felt certain we were lost and in a previously unexplored path deep in the forest. Then as darkness approached we would find our way back home by asking questions and guessing which way would lead us out. It was always fun and because our parents forbade it, it made it twice as much fun. However all of this was in the good old-days before the kidnappings started in the Eastern part of Nigeria.
When we got back home, usually well after our 6:00pm curfew time, our mum would yell and start peppering us with a barrage of questions, “Where have you all been? What have you been up to? Don’t you know animals are in the forest?” etcetera etcetera etcetera. And no matter how creative we try to be with our tales, there was always the give-away of thorns and nettle that stuck on our clothes. Once she saw these on my pants or those of my brother or cousins, she knew what we’ve been up to and yelled again. But we were five in number. She didn’t stand a chance in stopping our adventures. There was no DSTV back then, what are boys to do in passing time away at the village? Eventually we got a Playstation though and we abandoned wandering and adventures for Legend of Zelda and Pro Evolution Soccer.
Habits are just like that. We pick up bad habits without even knowing. As we wander through life’s journey, we unknowingly have thorns and nettle that stick to us. We don’t even have to make any conscious effort to do so.
However good habits require more consciousness to formulate. It requires some thought, willpower and planning ahead. Ultimately we no longer have to expend willpower as it becomes an automatic response once it becomes a habit.
If we hang out with smokers, soon we start smoking. If we hang with gossips, soon we start to gossip. If we hang around friends who are thieves, it won’t take long before we start shop-lifting. It’s just like walking through the forest and picking up thorns and nettle on your trousers.
To form a good habit, you must have a plan. Think of habits you intend to formulate, write them out, what time do you intend to start these habits, what are the triggers or cues to identify when you should begin these habits. Here’s an example:
Victoria wants to formulate the habit of exercising every morning. Before now when she wakes up, her routine would be to simply move from the bed straight to the couch and watch CNN and drink a cup of coffee while muching on chocolate-chip cookies.
So she writes down her plan on a piece of paper and sticks it on the bathroom mirror. On it, she details the exact time her alarm clock should go off every morning. She then also details exactly what her first action should be- put on her Nike running shoes. Then she writes down her reward- a tall cold glass of smoothie. The principle here is Cue- Behaviour – Reward.
By planning her behaviour well ahead of time, and ensuring that it meets her reward- which could vary. The intrinsic reward that guides this behaviour could be
1. The filling of her stomach with coffee and cookies.
2. Watching CNN and getting her mental diet of being informed.
So she can experiment with exercising while listening to the news channel. Or having just a single biscuit with her smoothie after work-out as a reward. If she can consistently follow this pattern for 21 days, before long it becomes her default mode and a well ingrained habit and she will no longer need willpower to execute this behaviour, rather as soon as the alarm clock goes off in the morning, she’ll find herself groping for her shoes and running on her treadmill.
We can’t all be like Jesus and fight temptations as boldly. However we can alter our bad habits by replacing them with better ones. Go on and give it a try.
1. What’s are your bad habits? (Don’t write them out here, internalize your answer)
2. What inner need does this habit seek to fill?
3. How else can this need be satisfied?