I’ve been thinking a lot about habit-forming and -breaking lately, mainly because in my search for self-improvement, I find that habits are especially important.
I feel like we as a society talk about willpower in absolutes: you have it or you don’t.
“I’d diet but I just don’t have the willpower to give up sugar.”
“I’d start exercizing but I don’t have the willpower to get to the gym every day.”
Let’s be honest, these examples are really just excuses. Willpower is this fantastical thing that was made up by marketers (probably, those guys make everything up) to sell you the easy way out.
“You don’t need willpower, try WeightWatchers!” “Don’t use willpower, just slap a Patch on it!”
“Don’t use willpower, just slap a Patch on it!”
But willpower doesn’t really exist, not in the way that we think it does. It’s not this big bouncer-guy who is going to come in at night and force you to put away the potato chips. It’s not going to dress you in your workout clothes and give you a pep-talk through your whole run, either. Willpower is actually much smaller and a lot quieter than we probably hoped it would be. It takes the form of little decisions that are thoughtful about outcomes, rather than big blundering gut-feelings that will just tell us What Is Right.
I’m currently making a lot of changes in my life all at once: increasing exercise, quitting my 2-5 cigarette-an-evening habit, cutting back on the drinking that goes along with that, increasing my writing and contemplation time, decreasing my television time, switching my medication. Any of these changes by themselves could be overwhelming and cause for problems in the rest of my life. I’ve experienced all of these changes at one time or another. Usually, I try to make these changes in my habits by force of will, and I fail. This time I’m trying to change my habits through little small decisions.
I’ll give you an example. This hand-in-hand problem of smoking and drinking (which goes along with reading in the evening). I have long known (and said to the hubs, my therapist, my parents, my friends, countless others) that if I “just went to bed instead of going outside, I wouldn’t smoke at night.”
So, now it’s down to those little decisions, that seem HUGE when it’s, “OMG, a lifetime without this relaxing thing I do every night?!” but when it’s just, “Right now I’m deciding to get under the covers instead of going outside,” it’s a lot easier.
So, maybe that’s what they all mean by “Give yourself a break,” and “It’s about the little things.” Because really, forever really is just a bunch of little moments strung together. Deciding what we do with them–and how we think about them–will shape our lives.