Breaking Old Habits or Building New Ones

Breaking old habits or introducing new ones are often difficult things to do. More so if the habit you wish to break has a high immediate payoff or addictive potential. Or if the new habit you wish to introduce has negative aspects like loss of sleep and exhaustion if you wish to move to an earlier morning.

Recognizing our habits

Habits are an interesting thing. For the precise reason that we are often not consciously engaged in doing them, we often have trouble recognizing then modifying the triggers that lead to certain habits. That is, the association between the habit and the outcome have been performed for so long that we don’t really think about it. It's automatic.

Modified habits and different outcomes

However, start to modify the habit and quickly you will find that when the outcome differs, you become aware of it. For instance, try to stop eating your delicious dinner before you are full. If you always eat until satiated, it just won’t feel right. Whereas, eating until you are full is just business as usual. You likely rarely think about what you are doing. At least I don’t.

Time wasted on impulsive behaviors

As 2020 arrives, I am more convinced than ever that much of the news has become just another form of entertainment. It seems to me to cater more and more to shock and outrage than ever before. I’m talking both sides of the political aisle here. News organizations are increasingly open about their ideological biases and those of their readership.

Assessing my relationship with reading the news

I, for one, find the news kind of addictive. Not in a true sense of addiction, but more of an impulse to continue clicking and reading news stories once I start. Often, I find I waste more time than I prefer reading the news and get swept up in what’s going on. That’s not to say I think the news is bad or that we shouldn’t read the news. I like to know what’s going on.

However, my efforts to reduce time spent reading the news on my phone have not panned out. It turns out, some habits don’t respond well to a simple mental effort of “I’m going to spend less time doing that?” I like the news. But when I find myself almost impulsively clicking on more and more news stories, I don’t like how much time I waste.

Tracking my habits and personal behaviors

Enter the habit tracker. Perhaps you have used one before or rely on a journal or paper and pencil to track habits you want to change. Recently I’ve been tracking my news reading habits. Ideally, I’d like to simply limit my time reading the news. However, I started by eliminating it for a few days entirely.

It was crazy how strong the urge was to randomly pull out my phone and check the news. On several occasions, my phone appeared in my hand almost out of nowhere the moment I wondered “What is going on with x, y, or z?” Putting my phone back in my pocket really wasn’t that difficult. What surprised me was how automatic the action was between wondering about something, and my phone flying up to my face to find out.

Am I spending time in a way that I want to?

I know this behavior is not limited to my own personal behaviors. Phone operating systems are now coming with screen timers, phone-away time, and so forth. It’s obviously not just the news, but the endless emails, notifications, and so forth that keep us glued to these things.

I’m not about to write a screed on the need to detach yourself from your phone. Do what works for you. For me, I find I go through periods of enjoying the connectivity, and periods where I want time away.

What it really boils down to is my time and whether I am spending it how I set out to every day. Giving in to distractions bothers me. Finding my own behavior difficult to control always makes me want to try and modify it and regain a sense of intention in what I do.

Creating goals and forming habits with RA

What does this have to do with RA? I have found living with RA requires forming a lot of good health and psychological habits. As I wrote about in my post on 2020 RA goals, I have been working on strengthening my feet due to collapsing arches, not complaining about RA, and learning new things to offset the sense of loss.

Tracking to form good habits and visualize progress

I track all kinds of things, like weights and repetitions at the gym, time spent doing aerobic activity (for me cycling), calories expended, hours of sleep, steps, every penny of our household expenses, debt payoff, and so forth.

For me, tracking serves two simple purposes: discipline and a mental picture of progress. Simply seeing my progress or consistency keeps me disciplined. Seeing when I am falling off a habit snaps me back into thinking about why it was important.

Find a method that works best for you

A lot has been written about SMART goals. I have found that method really works for some of the new goals I introduce in my life. For the negative habits I wish to change, however, I have found tracking my behavior is most effective. Of course, you can combine both.

So if you have made goals for 2020 and, at this point, may be starting to wane, consider tracking your new habits you have been building. It might be what you need to keep at it. It can give you both more motivation and discipline, as well as a picture of your progress. There are lots of habit trackers on the app stores. Find one that suits you and give it a try.


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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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