We all have the capacity to reprogram ourselves. In the past I have tended towards being the “lazy artist”, and I only did work when I felt like it. This was completely natural for me, but it certainly wasn’t the way I wanted to be. Yet I found myself failing to achive what I wanted to, in spite of my good intentions. I was falling prey to my defaults.
Relying on defaults is the way quite a few people live their lives. I define our defaults as the behaviors that we develop as we are growing up, due to our parents, the situations we were exposed to, and many other formative factors, most of which we didn’t choose and couldn’t control. These events and situations wrote us a certain set of scripts in our heads, our Defaults, that dictate the most natural way we act. These defaults aren’t necessarily good or necessarily bad; they can be either, and still be strongly built into your psyche. Maybe your parents raised you to be very polite, always doing as you are told and always saying “Thank You”. This doesn’t seem to be too common, but if you were raised this way, politeness is part of your defaults. It is deeply ingrained, which is a good thing. But you might have trouble being a “people-pleaser” Like I described in this post over here. One or both of parents might have abused alcohol. This doesn’t mean you will as well, but it’s very likely to be in your defaults. It may be something that you have to deal with. Some have said that obesity is genetic: either you have a fat gene or you don’t. I guess I’m not qualified to pass judgement on that one way or another, but I think overweight parents raise kids who struggle with their weight not because of genetics, but because they have programmed unhealthy living into the child’s defaults.
So, defaults are powerful, and they shape you in ways that you probably don’t even realize. You didn’t get to choose most of them, and the ones you did choose may have been chosen poorly. Here’s the good news, though: you can change the defaults. It’s called forming new habits.
Now, depending on your particular past experiences, the words “Forming new habits” might have had one of several effects on you: “I’ve tried that before!” you might be thinking to yourself “Forming new habits is pretty much impossible. You start our strong, but you never last for very long. I know I need to form better habits, but I don’t know how.” If this is you, don’t worry. Forming new habits takes some work, but it’s far from impossible. Normal people without any special discipline have been able to remap the most pernicious defaults in their lives, and you can too: you just have to know how. Here are a few things I’ve learned while forming new habits.
One at a time
Anyone who tries to set new year’s resolutions and then fails on them by february understands how poorly humans change multiple habits at once. Many times they put their failure to follow through down to their own lack of discipline, but it really is nearly impossible to change a whole lot of habits at once and make them lasting. Try just changing one habit at a time, and once it becomes cemented in your life, change another one. You’ll make so much more change then if you try to change everything at once.
Do it every day.
This is very importent if you’re weak like I am (and I think most of us are). If you skip a day, it makes it that much easier to skip again. If you’re trying to exercise in the morning and you just don’t think you can do your whole workout, do some of it. Do something. This way you’re still teaching your body the hardest part of forming a new habit: starting. Do it every day religiously, and it will become a habit much faster.
Do it for a month
There are different opinions about how long it takes for human beings to acquire a new habit, but a month seems to work really well. If you go with a month, you can easily choose a new habit every new month, after the past goals have become habitual.
Say no to guilt.
I don’t care what good actions it makes you take, guilt is always bad. I don’t care if you are exercising more, tipping better or feeding the poor, if it’s motivated by guilt, it’s either not going to last, or you’re not going to last. Guilt is an endless cycle. You’re never going to be done with it if you don’t nip it in the bud. Try altering your internal voice from the guilt-inducing phrase “I should do such and such” to the proactive ” I want to do such and such”. You’re not forced to do anything. You’re not forced to go to work. You want to because it provides for your family. Read a longer post on guilt over here.
So, if you follow these simple pointers, forming new habits will be…still really hard. But if you’re intentional, it’s very, very doable.
…but most people just don’t bother, and live life according to their defaults. Don’t be like most people.