Homeostatic

I spend a lot of time thinking about habits – the good, the bad, the intentional and the wholly accidental.

In my own life, I have become aware of and am addressing my habits of mind that lead me to anxious thoughts and a propensity to becoming overwhelmed. I have removed some habits (okay, maybe removing is more accurate:) ) and added others (such as my daily meditation practice).

At school, I strive to teach the students the good habits of an academic – preparation, questioning and perseverance. I try to coach them to bring a pencil every day (you have no idea how difficult this is with 8th graders!), complete their homework, ask until they understand and to push harder when the work gets tough.

As a wellness coach, I help my clients establish habits that improve the well-being of their minds and bodies. I assist them in identifying their thinking patterns that underlie their choices and I aid them in becoming more aware of their mindless approach towards health and fitness.

Habits themselves are neither good nor bad. They are simply acquired behaviors that are done often and automatically and can be difficult to break. Habits have a purpose; they serve to automate much of the minutiae of life so that our brains are free to attend to novelty. Habits are difficult to break because they often occur below our level of awareness and they are reinforced by the removal of a negative stimulus (ex. relieving anxiety) or the application of a positive stimulus (the taste of that cookie on your tongue).

I spend a lot of time thinking about habits.

But they still have the capacity to surprise me with their tenacity.

My car is approaching its 14th birthday.Β  I had an after market alarm installed within a week of purchase. This alarm came with two identical keypads that, shockingly enough, do not have the staying power of an Acura. Although the car runs fine (knock on wood), the keypads have now both passed on. I suppose I could track down replacements or have another alarm installed, but the car is 14 years old. I really don’t want to put any money in it that is required by the stoic hamsters under the hood.

So, Brock clipped the wires to the alarm. No problem, I thought. I don’t care about the alarm anymore. But I was forgetting something.

Habit.

My doors used to lock automatically after a 30 second delay (mechanics hated this – they used to lock themselves out all the time!). After 14 years, I have become used to this feature. When I exit my car in a safe location (basically home and work), I simply walk away and wait for the car to lock itself.

It doesn’t do that anymore. Now, I have to remember to manually enter a key in the lock and turn. I know, so archaic.

My car key. The ribbon was used by Brock to secure my engagement ring in his pocket on the night he proposed:)
My car key. The ribbon was used by Brock to secure my engagement ring in his pocket on the night he proposed:)

How many times have I remembered since the wires were clipped (sounds like an automotive vasectomy, doesn’t it? πŸ™‚ ) on Saturday? None.

Lisa 0

Habits 5

Damn.

I used to tease my mom about her attempts to remember things and break through habits. She had sticky notes plastered to every available surface as visual reminders. She would place throw pillows right in her morning path to prompt her brain to remember while her body adjusted its path. These were never useful strategies for long. As with anything, she adapted to their presence and their novelty no longer registered.

I came down the stairs to this the other day. I first thought my mom must have put it there. Then I remembered, she's a thousand miles away. It turns out that Tiger pulled it off the couch. Perhaps a reminder to chase squirrels?
I came down the stairs to this the other day. I first thought my mom must have put it there. Then I remembered, she’s a thousand miles away. It turns out that Tiger pulled it off the couch. Perhaps a reminder to chase squirrels?

I used to tease her. But I get it now. I don’t think its so much a loss of memory as we age as the accumulation of habits.

Less is novel.

And more is automatic.

We do as we have done.

Biology uses the term “homeostasis” to describe an organism’s attempt to maintain a state of equilibrium or balance. Our habitual state becomes our equilibrium and we are fighting homeostasis to change those patterns of thought or action.

It’s a difficult battle, but not impossible.

The easiest way to change habits is to piggyback them on other changes. For example, if I had a new car, it would be easier for me to remember that my exit strategy had changed. Or, when my life was in flux from divorce, I could easily add a regular yoga class since it was simply one more change of many.

I’m not suggesting you get divorced just so you can do yoga, however!

So what can you do when you don’t have other change to anchor to?

Start by becoming aware of your habits and their precursors.

Example: I buy a Starbucks on the way to work every day when I drive by a specific location.

Identify the pros and cons of the habit.

Example: Starbucks is yummy and coffee has caffeine, but it is expensive.

Change the circumstances or the precursors.

Example: I drive a new route that does not take me by the Starbucks.

Redesigned logo used from 2011-present.
Redesigned logo used from 2011-present. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Practice relaxation.

Example: The best part of the coffee was the first sip before I walked into work. Instead, I will take a brief mediation in the car to relax.

Identify the challenging situations.

Example: I am most likely to stop when I have not had enough sleep or I am stressed about the day.

Plan alternatives to the habit.

Example: When I am tired, I will bring an extra mug of coffee from home and I will use yoga and meditation to handle the stress.

Create a challenge.

Example: I will commit to an entire Starbucks-free month.

 

 

Just so you know, that is a hypothetical “I” in the above exercise. I love me some Starbucks but I’m too cheap to go there too much! I went through much the same process when I decided to add meditation to my daily life a year ago. Since then, I have been able to create a habit of it; I rarely skip more than a day. It has become part of my homeostasis, my balance. We will always revert. It is impossible to not to fall back on habit, to be completely mindful in every moment. Luckily, we can change what we revert back to by changing those habits and creating a new stasis.

And now, I just need to go through the process with locking my car door. In the meantime, please don’t steal my car. I might have to send Tiger after you!

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11 thoughts on “Homeostatic

  1. I think we all put ourselves into these life habits, Just by reading your blog there I though of about 20 habits I do that are similar, small things I did not realise I was doing πŸ™‚

    Great blog xx

      1. Scary, weird thought eh πŸ™‚
        Is everything we do habit? So complex in nature we will never understand it?
        Get your head around this.
        Will your answer be random, or chance, or exactly what would be expected of you (That I would not know about, only you)

        How deep do these habits go..

        We should do a study at once

        πŸ™‚

  2. Thank you for this post; it’s encouraging. I’m on the cusp of a few major changes in my life, and am nervous about my ability to change into the new routines. But if I look at them as old and new habits, as you’ve discussed here, it becomes more manageable. For instance, I’m job-hunting, after having been a stay-at-home mom for 14 years. I wake up early enough (5 a.m.), but my morning routine takes me until 9 a.m. until I’m finally “starting” my day. (Workouts, taking kids to school, breakfast, laundry, showering, etc.) But I need to figure out how to streamline/make changes so that I can be at a job by (whenever?). Your post helped me wrap my mind around this process; I’ve been stressing. But I can do this. I can do this!

    1. You’ll be fine:) I’ll bet in a year, you’ll look back and wonder how it used to take you so long in the morning. We adapt amazingly quickly when we have to. You can do this! (and so much more!)

  3. Interestingly I was reading that it takes 21 days to make a habit stick. Why 21 and not 20 or 23, I do not know; however, I do find that time period is about right as far as keeping up healthy habits.
    Good luck with breaking the starbucks treat!

  4. I love how you used science in your process!! I was just thinking of the concept but couldn’t find a good word to express it!! I feel like that the homeostasis you referred to is often where I get stuck, and what kept me in an abusive relationship for 16 years. The fear of learning a new way to walk can be daunting.

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