Monday, March 17, 2008

It's Habit Forming...

...all these things we do. Especially the ones we do without thinking.

Throughout the weekend and, now, into the week, I've been ruminating endlessly about this simple concept (and finding hidden depths in it, as only you can do when you're obsessing :-). You see, I have this desk calendar--one of those obnoxious ones "with quotes." Yesterday's snippet of wisdom was: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."

Problem is, as trite as the little blurb sounds, it's true.

Three weeks ago, in an attempt to try out a theory, I went on a 6-day health kick. No sugar (well, okay, not much sugar), very light on starches, low sodium, lots of good-for-you veggies and things like that. I epitomized the "Sensible Solution/Smart Choice" dieter. Aside from losing a couple of pounds, which is always a positive thing for me, the most obvious benefit was the way I genuinely felt better. The less obvious benefit was the tentative formation of a new set of habits when it came to looking at the food I had stocked in the refrigerator and pantry.

I swear, my brain synapses actually began to fire differently. After an initial day or two of having to really think through my meal options and weighing every ounce of sliced strawberries or skinless chicken breast, I instinctively started choosing more appropriate portions of healthier food items. And, even after my 6-day experiment was over, this habit carried on into subsequent days--first at 90%, then at 75%, then at 40%...until it all but drifted away.

This past week, I wasn't trying to be health conscious at all. And, wow, did I ever succeed at that. This morning, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, I dumped probably a quarter cup of Irish Cream creamer into my coffee along with several packets of sweetener. (In my defense, it was a really big coffee mug...but still.) This is an old habit, one that managed to resurrect itself because of my inattention today, but a small part of me DID stop and DID think. A tiny part of me DID remember doing my coffee ritual differently last Monday and the Monday before that. And this was the part of me that caused my hand to pause for a split second before I poured in that creamer. I could have changed directions, reached for the skim milk instead, had I wanted to. (As it turned out, I didn't want to, but that's a different discussion.)

The good news is: there's almost always a choice...whether we want to stop procrastinating, run our errands more efficiently, think more optimistically, write 10 more manuscript pages per week, exercise daily. The better-for-us, wished-for habit is right there, just waiting for us to claim it as our own. The bad news is: we need to embrace this power by recognizing its existence, and it's far too easy to float through life's hours in a sucralose-drugged state of semi-consciousness.

Or maybe that's just me.


Maureen McGowan said...

What you say is so true. Sadly I've yet to find that magic length of time whereby those better habits become the default position, not the unusual.
I've lasted over year before. Craving exercise, craving healthy foods, my stomach flipping and nose turning up at the smell of deep fried foods... And on the writing front, too. Where 10 pages a day is easy. Normal. Like breathing. And yet... Those less healthy habits are so ingrained they eventually find their way back in...

Sandra Ferguson said...

All right, so this is one of those post I need to really think about. Luckily, I'm spring breaking this week and can honestly mull over what you pose.

I love that quote. And am quite certain I'll need to steal it and blazen it across my computer.

As for the whole sugar thing, my hubby was diagnosed with diabetes this past summer -- sugar counts high enough he couldn't pass his DOT physical and when you're a truck driver passing that physical is the difference between whether he drives or not. Medication aside, I took my fridge and pantry to a serious sugar cleaning. It worked. Amazing how when it's simply not in the house, then I'm not tempted to eat it, and by default neither did he.

That said, remember any calories eaten on a holiday don't count -- so don't worry about the creamer on St. Patty's day -- it's all good.

Have a great writing week.

Marilyn Brant said...

Thanks, ladies :). Another friend just emailed me privately and reminded me of our mutual habit of overdosing on ice cream, which now, of course, has me craving Ben & Jerry's...

And, Sandra, glad you loved the quote, too. Steal away!!

L.A. Mitchell said...

Very thought provoking, Marilyn. I'll remember it when I start my writing challenge April 1st.

I've been thinking of you a lot this week as GH announcements went out. My greatest lasting blessing from last year was the amazing friendships I made :)