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giving good...habit
and other reasons to smile
by maigen thomas (@Maigen)
6.23.10
general


A habit is any action that we have performed so often that it becomes an almost involuntary response. For years, I was a smoker. From the time I thought it was cool at 14 until the time I started dating a guy who refused to date smokers – about ten years – I fluctuated between five and twenty cigarettes a day. It wasn’t that I loved smoking; it was an instinctive response to light up when I finished a meal or when I got in the car. It was merely a habit, and one I wasn’t planning to change (until I fell in love and found a more important reason to STOP smoking).

For me, quitting smoking wasn’t that hard. I wanted that guy more than I wanted my bad habit, so I just stopped. I quit. Cold turkey, no looking back. Three years later, though, when that guy and I broke up – I was back to smoking. I didn’t even LIKE it, it just became a habit. Again.

Be Aware

The important thing to remember – whether you’re setting good habits or breaking yourself of bad ones – is to be sentient. Be present throughout your day. Make mental note of when you have a desire to take part in a bad habit. Make note of when you’re feeling too tired at lunch to find the motivation to hit the gym after work. It’s important to process these thoughts, to accept and recognize them without acting on them. If you give in to temptation and have a cigarette, take a moment to think about it. Don’t beat yourself up, just acknowledge and move on. This is how you will become conscious of your triggers and the speed bumps in your path.

Have a Good Reason

Sometimes, setting a goal is reason enough. For some people and some habits, simple desire for change is all it will take to adjust to a new way of life. For lifelong patterns, it will be a harder struggle to reset your inner wiring. Your motivation for change is what will help keep you on track. For me, quitting smoking the second time (In March of this year) was primarily financial. I just couldn’t afford packs of cigarettes in New York (and I sure as hell wasn’t willing to sacrifice food)!

Is your goal mental? Physical? Tangible or intangible? Do you want to be healthier, or do you want to run the Boston Marathon? Do you want to read more or read 50 classic novels in a year? Having a good reason in mind is what will help you keep your promises to yourself when you feel like giving up.

Set Small Goals

“Rome wasn’t built in a day”, right? You’re not going to overhaul your entire life in a day, either. Take it a step at a time. Challenge yourself to NOT have the after lunch cigarette. Challenge yourself to ‘just walk for a few minutes’. Challenge yourself to stay off the internet and get studying done for a solid 15 minutes. It stimulates the brain’s pleasure center to accomplish a goal, no matter how small. And that stimulation makes it easier to set and reach another goal. And the one after that.

Do It Anyway and Don’t Give Up

Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today. Tomorrow never actually becomes ‘Today’, it just turns into another tomorrow. If you want to lose weight, do some crunches right now. Go for a walk, right now. One time around the neighborhood.

You don’t feel like it, you whine? Well, when you find your magic wand, things will get easier. For now, suck it up. Get off the couch. Put your shoes on. Walk out the door.

You made it out the door, now put one foot in front of the other. Now you’ve started, and it’s as easy as breathing. You could give up and turn back, but you’re already out here. Might as well keep going.

Be Consistent and Be Accountable

The easiest way to accomplish a goal is to tell someone of it. It creates a sense of accountability. That person trusts you to keep your word. Of course you’ll keep your word!

Write down your next goal on a post it. “I will go one whole day without smoking”. Put it on your computer screen, directly in front of your face. “I will walk five miles in a week” – put a post it on Saturday on the calendar, then write post its for each day – one mile, five times this week (do you know how easy that is? If you’re in an office, you practically walk half of that while you’re at work). Be accountable to yourself and keep your expectations realistic.

Smile

It’s hard to change a habit. At minimum, studies show that it takes 21 days of consistent behavior to create a habit. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between ‘bad’ and ‘good’ behaviours, it just knows that the habit action is routinely performed so it would benefit from an improved neurological pathway for more efficient processing.

Make it easier on yourself. Smile.

Really though, smile. Smile when you’re setting the goal. Smile when you’re telling someone about your goals. Smile when you’re reaching small goals. Smile when you’re putting on your shoes, or throwing away your lighter.

Smiling is a social emotion, but it also is a trigger for your brain. Smiling convinces your brain that you’re happy, which causes it to release endorphins, which make you happy. So if you smile while you’re changing your habits, your brain will eventually be stimulated into releasing endorphins when you consistently perform those actions – making it a pleasurable habit to quit smoking or work out more often.

You’ll convince yourself you’re happy, which in turn will actually make you happy.

Isn’t smiling a good habit to have, anyway?


ABOUT MAIGEN THOMAS

Maigen is simple. is smart. is wholesome. is skeevy. is spicy. is delicate. is better. is purer. is 100% more awesome than yesterday. She';s traveling the world and writing about her experiences with life, love, yoga, food, travel and people. Mostly people. Because they';re funny. hear more of her random thoughts @maigen on twitter.

more about maigen thomas

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