Good habits are hard to form; hard to maintain and easy to break. And it’s the opposite for bad ones. Easy to form; easy to maintain; hard to break. Pah. A couple of years ago I did a blog about the habits I’d unconsciously developed before I delivered training (sitting in the same place for breakfast in the hotels I stay in; eating the same stuff each time) and how I thought that was not at all a good thing. However it turns out that this is in fact a good thing! Even mundane habits like this are good and help you to deal with other, less prosaic matters.
Take the Obama Vanity Fair interview by Michael Lewis, “Obama’s Way”, September 11 2012. Constrained by so many facets of presidential life, and with very little personal privacy, he carved out a couple of hours at the very end of one day, into the early morning of the next, to chill out, have some time alone, and do what he pleased.
The other thing he did was pare down the number of (reasonably inconsequential) decisions about what to eat and wear each day - only ever choosing a grey or blue suit, for example – in order to free up space and ability in his brain for the bigger and more important ones. A fascinating study of judges’ decisions over the course of a day in court showed that as each session of the day drew to a close, before coffee, lunch and afternoon break, the judges’ decisions tended to be influenced by earlier ones – so the later you went before the judge in each session, the lower your chances of parole. The morale of the story (apart from don’t commit a crime) is to eat little and often and look after yourself. So I wanted to share with you the audit I’ve just done of my own habits – the good, the bad and the lapsed – and what I intend to do to get my overall performance back up.
- My daily gratitude list. With thanks to my colleague Michael for introducing me to this, I write down three things that have happened at the end of each day, for which I am grateful. It’s known to boost happiness. It works. It’s about noticing and appreciating the small as well as the big things, training your brain in this way, and it boosts your resilience. Here are yesterday’s: I finally played Aria in F flawlessly on the piano (it’s taken me months); I watched baby blue tits fluttering around the garden, practising their flying, staying close to their mum who was feeding them; the lilies on the dining room table are absolutely spectacular – such a beautiful sight each morning when I come downstairs.
- Piano practice. Sometimes I want to wail and gnash my teeth, so little enthusiasm do I have for it. But I love it, and even if it’s only a few minutes it’s helping me improve and it relaxes me. It’s also good for the brain and memory. I’m hoping to take my Grade One exam soon. But keeping the exact date under my hat when I get it booked.
- Breathing. A few minutes is all it takes. I used a guided breathing/meditation sequence I learned when I was at the amazing Body Holiday in St Lucia a few years ago (Go. You will love it.). It relaxes and focuses me.
- Power Pose. I’ve been doing a lot of business development in the last few weeks. A couple of minutes of power posing boost testosterone, suppresses cortisone and gets me in the right frame of mind to get on the phone, e-mail and into meetings and get ready to do business!
- Daily stretching. And boy am I paying for it now. About seven or eight years ago I had a lot of back trouble and vowed to combat it by doing simple things like a morning stretch. Last year I started having a monthly, frankly tortuous, massage, which has helped it so much I got complacent and haven’t been doing my stretches. Big mistake. I write this in a lot of pain, about to go off and have a massage, a fortnight after the last one, to help me straighten out, literally, my back. And yes, I’m back on the stretching trail.
- Fasting – the 5:2. I am plump, and that’s being generous to myself. My weight does go up and down, and I’ll never regain my youthful svelteness, but that doesn’t mean I should give up completely. So it’s back on the agenda. Oh yes. It’s easy when you get started, but it’s a mindset, it’s organisation, it’s a bit of commitment. I’ve done it before, loved it and felt the benefit. The only thing getting in the way of it is me.
- Learning for pleasure. I’ve got loads of qualifications albeit they’re no use unless they’re put into practice somehow. Every day that I coach, train and facilitate I learn something, but I have got out of the habit of learning for pleasure (although I read for pleasure all the time). So I’m now doing a free, online course all about networks and networking. Pretty much all of it is familiar to me, but I’m enjoying the discipline of doing something every day (about 15 minutes max), over four weeks. I’ll use some of it in my work, but it’s lovely to engage the brain in a slightly different way.
- My cookbooks. We’re eating the same stuff all the time, albeit there’s a pretty good rota. I used to love sitting down with my cookbooks and planning out the week ahead. It was fun, inventive and rewarding for the taste buds as well as the brain. I’m dusting them off and trying some new stuff. Can’t wait. This takes me on to the bad…..
- Snacking because I’m bored and not hungry. Need I say more? It’s pathetic and has to stop.
- Eating rubbish (and see above). Colin the Caterpillar leftover birthday cake? Why not? Why not indeed. The sugar rush alone. Replace with a piece of fruit, Nicola.
- Lapsing into pessimism. I’m naturally a moderate pessimist, according to Martin Seligman’s “Learned Optimism”. I have been practising optimism for a long time but realised recently I was slightly out of the habit. Pessimism is necessary but too much is damaging to our health and our efforts. Linked to this, my final point…
- Worry. Why worry about anything? What will be will be. Much better to work towards positive outcomes and controlling the things you can rather than the things you can’t.
So what next?
I feel delighted to have done this audit. It’s not perfect. Far from it. My good habits I am doing I’m doing consistently. The things that have lapsed, have lapsed only recently. The bad, well, they are bad, but having turned to face them I can do something about them.
I’m making a public commitment to come back to you in four weeks’ time and report on progress then. And if you have any handy tips do feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d appreciate it!
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