One weird human paradox is that we simultaneously want change, and resist it. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Without that initial resistance, without the cycle of rewards and repetition needed to turn an action into a habit, we’d establish habits TOO easily. So if you’re feeling some reluctance toward a new behavior, try viewing this feeling as a healthy gatekeeper, not a reason to give up.
There’s no hard and solid line separating dreams, goals and habits, but here’s a useful distinction: Goals are dreams with data. They can be quantified and measured. Habits are specific actions performed in response to a specific trigger or cue.
For a long time, I included “Simplification” among my daily habits. There were days when I did something that could be considered simplification, but more often this habit was the sole thing keeping me from 100% daily completion. It took me longer than it should have to figure out why I couldn’t turn “Simplification” into a habit. The reason is worth emphasizing:
If you can’t acquire a particular habit, there’s a good chance that it’s not specific enough to even BE a habit.
“Simplification” is not a habit. It’s not even well enough defined to be a goal. Until you identify what simplification means to you and decide what specific, daily actions you’re going to take, it’s a dream.
Dreams are great, but it takes goals and habits to bring them into reality.
Spring is here, and so is allergy season.
Before you reach for those over-the-counter pills, though, consider taking the GIDIG approach: Identify a goal, break it down into small daily actions, and turn those actions into habits. If your goal is to get through allergy season without getting a sinus infection or stumbling around in a medicine-head fog, read on.
Allergies are a type of inflammation, and inflammation is what happens when your body mobilizes to fight off environmental irritants. A good way to manage allergy symptoms–and to keep them from developing into sinus infections and asthma attacks–is to focus on habits that reduce inflammation triggers. If you already have some of these habits, or are working to acquire them, the beautiful, pollen-filled spring season is a good time to double down on your efforts.
- Limit sugar intake.
- Get enough sleep
- Drink lots of water.
- Run an air purifier.
- Banish pets from your bedroom.
- Eat more veggies and fruit.
- Drink green tea.
- Switch to whole grains.
- Eliminate food with trans fats (hydrogenated oils.)
- Avoid foods that you find irritating or hard to digest. If dairy doesn’t agree with you, this is a good time to skip the ice cream and mocha lattes.
Since stress can also increase inflammation, here are a few habits that help with stress management:
- Daily exercise.
- Identity something every day for which you’re grateful.
- List three things that went well today. Repeat daily.
- Do something kind or generous.
Severe, chronic allergies can be life-threatening. If your doctor prescribes medication, listen to him or her. Check with your doctor before making lifestyle changes. Chances are, they’ll be glad (and probably shocked) that you’re interested in taking charge of your health and improving your habits.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the long list of habits and don’t know where to start, focus on these three: Set regular sleep hours, avoid sugar, and drink water. Just those three changes can make a big impact.
To-Do Lists tend to be long, unfocused, and unrealistic. Wildly optimistic, at best. If your habit system includes things that you routinely leave undone, you’ve entered To-Do List territory and the primary habit you’re acquiring is the habit of non-completion.
If this sounds familiar, it may be time to prune and refocus your habit system. A few actions done consistently will move you forward more quickly than a lot of things on a list that aren’t really habits at all.
Some goals are so vague that they’re difficult to quantify, much less achieve. “Get in shape.” “Be more positive.” The same problem arises with habits. If you’re struggling to acquire a habit, there’s a good chance that you need to redefine it.
When you’re defining a habit, narrow it down to a specific action, performed at a specific time, in response to a specific cue. Habits form when you associate an action with a cue. If you haven’t defined those actions and cues, you’re not likely to develop a habit.
So instead of vowing to “Exercise daily,” make a plan: “On weekdays, I’ll go to the gym right after work. On Saturday, I’ll do an early morning yoga class. Every Sunday, I play tennis with Mike at 2:00.” After a while, daily exercise starts to feel as natural–and as necessary–as eating and sleeping every day, but it takes some thought and planning and effort to get to that point.
If you’re struggling with a habit, ask yourself if it’s really more of a goal than a habit. For example, Simplification was one of my habits, and I defined it as, “Do something to simplify my life every day.” That’s not specific or actionable enough to become a daily habit, but it’s certainly a worthwhile goal. To achieve that, I’m starting with these habits:
- Every Sunday evening after doing the housecleaning routine, I will scan papers (bills, contracts, research materials, etc.)
- Every Monday evening after supper, I will choose an item to donate, give away, or sell through eBay or Amazon.com.
These actions won’t result in Zen-like simplicity, but they’ll get me moving in the direction I want to go.
What habit do you need to rethink and redefine?