Monday, October 28, 2013

Motivation Monday: The Art of Self Discipline

Seems like I'm always trying to fit a new habit into my routine.  Sometimes it works, sometimes not.  A few weeks ago, instead building a new habit, I thought I would try eliminating an old one.  The habit I would be going after, is one that I've had for years.

Whenever I go into a grocery store or gas station, I always grab a bag of chips on my way out.  It's just something small that I reward myself with on a regular basis.  When I decided to go gluten free last year, I had to give up so many types of snacks.  I felt so grateful that chips were still on my "can eat" list that I indulged a little more than usual.  Over time, the frequency of me grabbing a small bag of chips increased.  Soon it became an unconscious habit.  I craved a bag of chips every time I walked to the check out line even though I wasn't hungry when I first walked in the store.  The behavior had taken over me.

That's when I decided to try something different....I simply made the commitment to "stop buying chips" for a specified number of days. The point of this was not to eliminate chips from my diet altogether, it was to create the opportunity to bring  back choice and self discipline into the situation.


Fast forward a couple of weeks and I now have the ability to go into any store, do my shopping, without having to unconsciously fall into an old habit loop.   Looking back at the situation now,  I realize that I didn't really want the chips all those times I reached for them.  I simply was reacting to a pattern that existed.  Our minds love to create rituals from the choices we make everyday.  If we choose to repeat an action or thought over and over again, our minds build those thoughts into our memory for easy retrieval.  It becomes part of our wiring. This is a good thing when it comes to activities like driving, brushing our teeth, etc.  It allows us to do those routine tasks without much thought.

The problem we run into comes when we make a "poor" choice over and over again.  Our minds save those repeated actions for reference. Soon, we are subconsciously taking that action without being fully present.   So how to we break the viscous cycle?

In the book, the Power of Habit, the author talks about a habit being comprised of three parts, the queue (or trigger) that sets the habit in motion, the routine (the behavior itself), and the reward which allows our brain to encode that behavior for the future. So in my case, the queue was when I walked up to the checkout out line at a store, the routine I engaged in was to grab a bag a chips.  The reward was the taste experience I received from enjoying some spicy jalapeno chips.  The author of the book points out that if you want to create a new habit (or break and old one) instead of focusing on the behavior itself, one should focus on the queue and the reward which trigger the habit.

For me, focusing on the queue was critical.  I knew that every time I walked to a check out line, my eyes started wandering around looking for the chip selection.  So instead of letting that "happen to me" I decided that when I walked up to the checkout line, I would do something different, like looking through my phone.  Suddenly, when the queues changed, my desire for chips diminished.  At first, I thought I would go through major withdrawals but once I took away the trigger, the temptation seemed to go away.  Yesterday, my husband came home with two small bags of chips. One for me and one for him.  I looked at the second bag and told him that I really didn't want it.  This doesn't mean that I'll never eat chips again.  But it does demonstrate that my former addiction habit wasn't as powerful as I thought it was.  Now I have the power to choose.

If I were going to use the same principles to create a new habit, I would really focus on the trigger and the reward.  For example, when I lay $1.00 next to my motivation jar, it becomes a queue to urge me to work out.  Once my workout is complete, I reward myself by putting a dollar in the jar.  In the Habit book, the author talks about people who used a  certain time of day as a trigger to go work out.  Once complete, those who rewarded themselves with a small piece of chocolate after working out at the same time everyday, were more likely to develop their actions into a long term habit.

I'm going to try adding the reward component to habits that I have difficulty maintaining.  Especially those habits that take a long time to see the results of my actions.  I can't wait to continue my experiment by building out routines based on conscious decision rather than circumstance.  I can't tell you how empowering it is to realize that I don't have to fall victim to my habits based on old triggers.  I simply have to connect the trigger to my action and chose a different behavior from this day forward.

  1. I love that quote. So powerful!

    Abbi of http://belowthawaist.blogspot.jp/

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  2. Great post, I am currently going through a similar situation and it's when I am at work and get lunch from the cafe. The chips (crisps as we call them here in the UK) are there and I always pick one up.
    I associate cafe lunch to go with a bag of chips.
    I will definitely use the trigger thing, to stop myself from picking them up.

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