Quitting that old habit

I was listening to Neal Boortz on the radio yesterday and the topic of discussion was on taking care of our bodies through exercise and healthy eating. A caller on the show and asked Neal and his guest hosts if he should quit smoking before implementing exercise into his daily activities. Neal’s guest hosts essentially told the caller that he should quit and implement exercise into his life right away.

Neal’s response to the caller was classic. He asked the caller when the last time he smoked his last cigarette. The caller let Neal know that his last smoke happened just prior to the call. In fact, his most recent cigarette was only two minutes before the conversation. Neal then began to point out to the caller that once he finished that cigarette, he had essentially quit smoking. The most important decision he needed to make was not whether or not he would quit smoking, because he already had. What he had to do next was to decide if he was going to start the habit of smoking once again after quitting.

I took that tidbit of wisdom and decided to apply it to my undesirable habits. I understood that the choice that needed to be made is not whether or not to quit whatever habit I am trying to rid myself, the real decision I am essentially making is whether I wish start again my bad habit of ...
Allow that thought to simmer. If you are not biting your nails, smoking a cigarette, eating junk food, etc, at this very moment, you have stopped the undesirable act. Now the choice is yours to make. Do you want to start?


Handling your habits

We all know how difficult it is to change those long standing unproductive habits that we know are holding us back. Here are some practical things to remember which will help you handle your habits.

1. Place focus on your goal(s). The reason you want to change your habit is because you have have some goal you want to reach. Your current behaviors you now follow are likely not conducive to that goal. You will only realize your goal once you modify your actions into ones that are congruent with your goal. So in essence, you need to really focus on the major reason(s) why you want to change before and during the behavioral changing process. Those reasons a the key tools for your motivation while creating your new habit.

2. Do not think about what you are doing, think about what you are producing. We will easily go back to our old ways of doing things if we think about the act and not the result. The more you focus on what you are doing (or not doing), the more likely you will return to our old ways. Flip your thinking to focus on what you are creating. For instance, every time you wake up in the morning and exercise, you are creating a healthier, more fit person. Every time you wake up in the morning and do not exercise, you are creating an out of shape unhealthy person. Remember, you are always creating not matter what you are doing.

3. Make yourself accountable. Whenever you are putting a new habit into practice, create some sort of method for evaluating what went well and what went wrong. Do not just assume that you will start reading 3 books a month simply because you said you would. Think of how best to make yourself accountable. Should you partner with a friend who will check up on your performance? Should you create a check sheet that you review daily or weekly? Make sure the method you use will be one that you will definitely implement. It will do you no good to set up an accountability tool that you will not end up using.

4. Do it daily. Whatever the new habit you decide to create, I recommend that you make it a daily habit. If you do it everyday, you will have a much greater chance of making it stick. If you say you will do it three days a week, you will be more likely to say that you can do it tomorrow and still make you three day a week goal. Next thing you know, the week is over and you have not met your standards. When you do it every day, you are saying to your subconscious mind that the action is now a part of your life and it will readily accept the new behavior more easily over something that you do sporadically throughout the week.


Habits, Habits, and more Habits

We do it once or twice, its an act. We do it everyday, its a habit. Charles C Noble once said, "first we make our habits, then our habits make us." Everything from the way we make our coffee in the morning, to how we prepare for bed at night is a culmination of actions which we repeat day after day. In doing so, we program the actions into our subconscious minds. In the end, we no longer need to think about what we are actually doing as we go about our day.

Many of us talk about breaking our bad habits. The reason we have those intentions is we have come to realize the destructive nature of the things we consistently do. Sometimes, even while we are doing it, we feel the guilt associated with doing what we know to be counter-productive to our growth. So how do we break our bad habits?

I am not sure we can. Breaking a habit is not the best way to "break a habit." Instead, we need to work on developing new beneficial routines and adapt them to our everyday lives. As we developed the bad habit, we deeply implanted programing into our brains much like a path we create from walking the same way through a field day after day. If I wanted to create a new path, I would not focus my attention on destroying the old path, instead, I would begin to walk in a different direction to my destination. In time, grass would grow over the old path causing it to slowly disappear.

Creating a new path is not easy. The first time you attempt to take a new path through the field, you may experience some anxiety. This new way does not feel as good as the one you used to take. In your mind, you ask yourself questions to justify why you should even bother putting yourself through this when you do not have to. You pretty much have to force yourself to keep going to you make it to the other side of the field. Once you are there, you evaluate your experience. Was it "not so bad," or "so uncomfortable you never want to go through it again?" Do you decide to take the worn out path the next day to avoid this emotionally charged experience?

The analogy of creating a new path serves as a simple illustration of habit creating process. My next post will focus on practical things we need to know when creating new habits. Stay tuned.


What about you?

My last post focused on creating your personal brand. This weekend I had the opportunity to possibly volunteer at a large professional organization meeting taking place locally. For some strange reason, the volunteer coordinator did not have record of my volunteer request. Rather than get upset and get bummed out about the misunderstanding, I decided to go back out to the exhibit halls among all of the attendees. I grabbed a seat and began observing the passers-by.

My first observation was that practically everyone looked the same. Each person looked pristine in their power black suit. But, each suit had less and less power with every individual who wore one. I'm sure that everyone of these intelligent individuals had well prepared mini-speeched detailing their accomplishments. Perhaps these accomplishments were a little embellished but with good reason in order to make the most lasting impression possible. I wonder how many of them will truly leave a unique mark with the people they come in contact with this weekend?

I have a theory. It may not necessarily be true, but it is worth sharing. I believe that many of the attendees are following a path that was carved out for them years ago. Perhaps carved out by their family expectations. Most likely carved out by society's definition and expectation of success. I do not believe that all of them would say that they have a passion for climbing the corporate ladder. If they did, I am not sure they could adequately verbalize the reason why. I myself did not have a reason to that question when I had the important talk with myself months ago.

So what's my point? I am not sure I have one. This blog is not meant to answer all the questions. It is to get you to think. Ask yourself "why am I doing _______?" If the answer does not make you feel all warm and gooey inside then there is most likely no passion behind it. I am not saying you should quit your job tomorrow, or ever. Instead, find out what does make you feel whole. What are you drawn to do? Answer that question and implement more of that into your life starting today. Do not be concerned about how much time you have to dedicate to what you love. This should be done for you. Besides, wouldn't it feel good to know that you are so much more than your career?


Branding You

We are surrounded by the myriad of brands in the marketplace today. Even the most natural substance, water, has fallen prey to the phenomenon of branding. Branding is how companies chose to separate themselves from the rest. Branding is why we pay a little more for one product over another. Most of us have only thought of branding the in corporate sense. But a new era is emerging, the dawn of the personal branding era.

Whether you realize it or not, you already have your own personal brand. A brand is how a product is recognized. Your branding is what you are known for. You have already created an image of what you represent. But most of us do not consciously think of how we are constantly defining ourselves. We consistently send out messages to everyone at all times, the key is to define our ideal image we want to brand and to effectively demonstrate image to the world. So how do you create or fine tune your brand?

1. Your uniqueness-Your brand relies heavily on your unique attributes. Take time to list your most valuable and unique assets. These are the traits that others notice about you as well. Once you have identified your strengths, accentuate them. Speak on them, place them on your personal card. Make it a part of your personal mission statement. Think of a slogan that best defines you and play it in your head over and over again.

2. Know your audience-What does your audience expect from you? Are consistently delivering above their expectations? If you take the time to understand their needs, you can effectively demonstrate to them how your unique attributes will provide solutions for those needs.

3. Be consistent-When you pay extra for a certain brand, you expect the same level of quality every time you purchase it. The same idea applies to your personal branding. You should work diligently to make sure that you continue providing the same level of excellence that your audience has come to expect. The consistently will reinforce your brand more than anything else you can do to define yourself.

Have fun creating your personal brand. Remember that the word personal is crucial in establishing your brand. Do not create a brand based solely on what you see others doing. Be innovative. If you seek out to emulate another individual's attributes, you liken yourself to the store brand. The quality may be comparable, but most customers prefer the brand name product. Reinvent yourself if your current brand is not what you desire it to be. Look for ways to separate yourself from the rest. It's time for a brand new you.


Are you willing?

What do you want your life to be like in the next 6 months, 5 years, 10 years?
Most of us have a picture in our minds of what we want our life to be. Many of us have even gone to the next step and have written our intentions. Great! You're half of the way there. Next you have to ask yourself honestly if you really want to achieve what you've just written down. So how do you know if you really want it?

Every goal that you have written down requires you to implement new behavior(s), or in some cases, stop your current behavior(s). You know exactly what those behaviors are. You also know exactly what you have to do today to change your direction and move towards your intentions. The question is are you willing?

So you want to become debt free. Great! Now you will have to live a lifestyle that is well below your means so you can allocate extra income to your balances. Nothing new..but are you willing? Are you willing to say no to buying lunches at work, or to the extra features that you had to have on your upgraded phone, or anything else you'll have to do to reach your goal?

Creating goals is a great thing. Writing them down is even better. Having the all important conversation with yourself about your level of commitment to your goal is perhaps the most important thing you can do to succeed. If you have made up your mind about your willingness to do exactly what it takes to see your goal through, you will be less likely to stop mid-stream because of the lack of commitment. When things get intense, you can go back and tell yourself that you knew this would likely happen and you agreed to endure because the goal is more important. You could even go as far as writing a contract with yourself listing all of the things that you are willing to do to reach your important goals and why your goals are so important to you. Keep that thing handy when times get hard. You know that you can do it, but will you?


Lets talk motivation

Many of us make drastic lifestyle decisions or changes as a result of external influences. When we decide to modify a part of our lives due to an external force, we tend to make the changes quickly and then slip back into our old ways slowly.

Don't get me wrong, external motivation is a great thing. In fact, that type of motivation is the juice that gets us started down the road to change. The problem is that external motivators usually work on a short-term basis and, like the drug addict, we need another fix to keep us going on that same level.

An example I will use is someone who wants to lose a certain amount of weight for an upcoming event (external). Usually the closer the event is the more motivation the person to work extremely hard to reach his/her goal. Fast forward to after the event has passed. Suppose that person was successful in reaching the weight loss goal. Maintaining that new weight will be highly unlikely because what truly kept him motivated is no longer a major influence of his habits. I've even heard of expectant mothers giving up smoking during the pregnancy for the health of the unborn baby only to revive the habit after the child is born.

So what does this all mean for you? Stop and reflect on your goals. Ask the all important question "why."
Why do I want to..... If the real answer is mainly externally in nature, you should strive to find an equally compelling internal purpose that will keep the fire burning resulting in long-term motivation.

If the drive is inside, you will not need to rely upon the next promotion opportunity, love interest, or other flavor of the month outside of you to influence your behavior. Your internal drive will carry you through all of the highs and lows of goal acheivement when you need it the most. External drive may work for some but it can not be counted on to provide the sole reasons for change in your life. It is internal motivation that forces us to keep on keeping on.