If you want to change your habits and change your life: let’s say it straight up front: inertia is your enemy. What do I mean by inertia? Freedictionary.com gives two definitions for the term “inertia”: 1. The tendency of a body to resist acceleration; the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest. 2. Resistance or disinclination to motion, action, or change.
This “inertia” thing is an ambition and success killer. It is the reason we sit on the couch watching one more mediocre sporting event instead of going for a walk and the reason we waste countless hours staring at television shows that we can’t even remember the next day. Inertia is the reason our education stagnates, our dogs don’t get walked, our waistlines expand, and our bank accounts leave us afraid for the future. And it is the reason why many of us facing life transitions, resort to what is comfortable instead of what is challenging and fulfilling.
In order to break your current state and adopt better habits, you need to take an honest assessment of your current state. I suggest that you carefully consider the habits that are holding you back. There may be more, but let’s start with three. When I completed this exercise, my three negative habits were:
- Watching too much low-quality television. Everyone needs a break from everyday life but I realized I could never get back the hours I wasted on shows that have no educational or inspirational value.
- Losing focus on my daily priorities. Because I can work very fast, I had the tendency to let major projects slip and focus on lower priority items. These could be work related or personal items like catching up on personal email, chatting with a friend or listening to talk-radio stations.
- Suffering from overwhelm. There are times where I have so much on my plate that I sort of freeze and waste time that could be productive.
That’s my short list. What is yours? Regardless, to change your current state, there are two ways of breaking a bad habit. The first is to stop doing that which is harmful. Stop drinking, stop smoking, stop overeating, stop lying, stop watching bad TV, stop cursing, stop wasting time, stop mistreating your spouse or children, stop, stop, stop. If you have never seen the video segment of Bob Newhart titled “Stop It”, do yourself a favor and watch this. The skit is hilarious but also has a good point. Sometimes the best way to stop a bad habit is to simply stop doing it.
While the stop it method has a lot of merit, there is another way to break bad habits; overcome them with better habits. For example, instead of breaking the habit of overeating, adopt the habit of healthy eating. Instead of breaking the habit of wasting time watching poor TV shows, adopt the habit of reading, exercising or spending quality time with your family. And if you smoke, start a daily jogging program and you may find that you find smoking and exercise to be mutually exclusive. If the reasons for change are powerful enough, you can totally subsume bad habits with those that work for your greater good.
Another way to transform your current state and break bad habits is to upgrade the people you spend time with. If you have an alcohol problem, don’t fool yourself that you can stop drinking but still hang around with your old drinking buddies. If you must still see these people, make sure you do so at a time when they are not likely to be practicing bad habits. Likewise, the places you go have an impact on your lifestyle. Hanging around with people who like to participate in sports (hiking, bike riding, golf, tennis, etc) will lead to different habits than those who are spectators only.
On the career side, you will be more inspired by individuals who talk about what they are doing to build their businesses than those who constantly complain about their lousy jobs. And if you are retired or semi-retired, seek out those who have busy and fulfilling lives.
The good news is that once you put something into motion – your exercise routine, your financial plan, your enhanced education – your upgraded life – it tends to stay in motion. This is the good side of inertia. The bottom line is that either you are the master and the habits are your slaves or vice versa. Fortunately, you get to decide.