Over the last couple of months I’ve been sharing what I learned from Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.
Many of us have habits that we know are bad for us and that we want to change, such as nail biting or smoking. However, over the years we may also have developed habits, or coping mechanisms, that we don’t even realize exist and that it may be in our best interest to change.
Over the last year or so my husband has pointed out to me that almost every weekend I don’t feel well. I couldn’t see it at first. It didn’t help that he pointed it out when I was not feeling well. It felt more like I was being kicked when I was down than someone trying to help me. However, one day my husband and I were out for a walk and I was telling him about something I had read in Duhigg’s book. It was a nice day and we were enjoying our walk through a local forest. Being the brave man that he is, he tried one more time to broach the weekend illness topic with me. He prefaced it with, “I know you don’t like to hear this, but you do always get sick on the weekends”. Because I was feeling well and therefore more receptive, I was able to delve into the issue with him.
After much discussion and a pretty big revelation, I realized that I was unconsciously following a habit loop – Cue, Routine, Reward – that I wasn’t even remotely aware of. The short(er) version of the story is that basically I am a pleaser. I like to make sure that other people are happy. Sounds good, but actually in order to make sure that other people are happy many times I sacrifice my own happiness out of an exaggerated sense of duty.
So, Monday to Friday my friends and family know to mostly leave me alone as I am working. I also know what I am doing Monday to Friday so there is no internal sense of pressure to be doing anything other than working – “I can’t worry about pleasing you now, I’m working!” A little weird but it was my “free pass” to not having to worry about other people’s happiness.
Weekends of course were another matter entirely. No free pass. All of a sudden all my time was open to make sure others were happy. Now before you label my friends and family as horrible monsters, you have to remember that I was doing this to myself. No one else was putting pressure on me; I was putting it on myself. Just the fact that we were home together and I didn’t have a free pass made me feel obligated to make sure everyone else was happy.
Unfortunately, my brain created its own free pass – not feeling well. I was not faking feeling unwell and then going and doing whatever I wanted. I actually didn’t feel well and would spend time sleeping and generally feeling crappy. Cue (weekend) – Routine (feel crappy) – Reward (everyone leaves me alone and I don’t feel a duty to please anyone) – “I can’t worry about pleasing you now, I’m not well!”
Once I recognized the habit loop, I was able to stop it. The next weekend I kept reminding myself that everyone is responsible for their own happiness. I started to feel unwell and reminded myself that I am only responsible for my own happiness and that I don’t have to please anyone. I reminded myself that I felt fine and I could choose to do whatever I wanted in that moment.
I’m happy to report that although I am still working on the pleasing thing, I no longer feel ill on weekends. I was able to break that particular habit loop. Actually, breaking the loop was the easy part, recognizing that there was a loop at all was the real work.
So again, what have you stopped seeing that it may be in your best interest to change?
Lisa Ivaldi is a Writer and Virtual Assistant in Guelph, ON. Click here to download a free copy of her Wake Up to What You Love workbook.