The Power of Habits to Stop Work Stress

"Habit is habit, and not to be flung out the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time."

-Mark Twain

Interpersonal skills, motivation, self-improvement, setting and meeting goals—all of these are subject matter I just can’t get enough of. However, I recently started to see a repetition in my reading. The new books were all saying essentially the same thing. I wasn’t feeling that same “high” that I usually felt after hitting on some new knowledge that would improve my life. I was already doing what the books recommended, yet I wasn’t seeing the usual results. I wasn’t losing my Christmas weight. I wasn’t increasing my productivity from last year. I couldn’t seem to make it down to the Humane Society for my usual volunteer time. I was, well, stuck.

One of my favorite standards in self-help/business skills development is the classic, 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.' Now, I have read this book more than once, and have taught it as a workshop, maybe forty times as of this writing (it’s a three day workshop, by the way, so that’s 120 sessions). It’s safe to say, I know this program inside and out.

But it wasn’t until I read a book called 'The Power of Focus' by Jack Canfield that something really important clicked for me. Even though I was teaching a class called 'The Seven Habits' I never really “got” that this program was talking about setting habits. It wasn’t called “The Seven Philosophies” or “The Seven Theories” but still, I was not clear that the message was to set (or break) habits. In reading just the first chapter of “The Power of Focus,” I finally had that “a-ha” moment I had been seeking for so many months.

Instead of setting goals, set habits. What I mean specifically is look at your repeated actions and decide if these are getting you the results you want. When we set goals, we tend to start from a place of lack or judgment, i.e., “I need to get more organized.” Well, in setting that goal, I would attempt new behaviors like setting up filing systems or trying to de-clutter my office, but this was leading to mixed results.

The problem was not so much the activity as the mindset. I saw the goal as a thing to be achieved like an item on a “to-do” list. I wanted to check off the “errand” and get back to the fun stuff. Consequently, I saw the goal as a burden, a chore, and my enthusiasm was revealed in this thinking. I either did what I had to do and then took a day or two off from this effort (and lost any progress) or I avoided it altogether. Only after switching my thoughts about the goal, to one where I was creating a new habit, did I have that much-needed shift. This shift allowed for increased enthusiasm, an ease in completing a day’s activities, and, finally, results.

If 90 percent of my activity will always be habit, as 'The Power of Focus' says, then what habits do I want/need to set in place to achieve the results I want? This thinking makes a huge difference in getting results. Here are some things I have noticed that changed my thinking once I incorporated this reality:

• When I have setbacks, I don’t tell myself what an undisciplined person I am or give up altogether in an attempt to seek perfection. I realize that my old habit is just still more ingrained than my new one. This will simply take more repetition of the new habit until the old is “erased.”

• Once I get passed the typical three to four week period that establishes a habit, I will find the new habit harder to break. My “mental tug” will not be to the old behavior, but the new one.

• I created the old habit, and I can reprogram myself to follow the new one instead. For instance, has anyone just loved wine at the first taste? How about cigarettes? These “habits” took effort to become a way of life. Let’s face it: these things taste awful and probably had nauseating effects at first. And yet, those who have these habits pushed passed the negative side effects in the beginning to establish a love and even a need for the behavior! Why can’t anyone do the same for, say, a workout?

So my suggestion to you is to start taking an account of your current habits (not your current failures or lack of progress). Then insert the new habits needed to change your results. The bad habits you have in place feel “normal” because you have done them over and over. Changing your behavior for at least three to four weeks* will feel very odd, but so did the current habits during the first few weeks.

You may not remember your initial struggle with a habit that isn’t providing current-day benefits, but it’s likely the struggle existed. Even if you can swear there was no effort, the negative side-effects were likely there and ignored (How could a potato chip cause a zit? Can’t be true! Let’s break out the Lays!).

Once your new habits start providing the good benefits, they will become even more ingrained. That will be all the motivation you will need to keep the new habit and lose the old one when temptation comes around.

Our lives are created from what we do every single day. These quotes about habits continue to underscore the importance of making sure your everyday actions are ones you want to keep.

“It seems, in fact, as though the second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing, but the habits he has accumulated during the first half.”

—Fyodor Dostoevsky

“A nail is driven out by another nail. Habit is overcome by habit.”

—Desiderius Erasmus

“First we form habits, then they form us. Conquer your bad habits, or they’ll eventually conquer you.”
—Dr. Rob Gilbert

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