We recently wrote about the power of habits and provided you with some tangible tips to boost your chances of building habits that last.
In this previous post, we referenced a piece of research that shows habits account for around 40% of our daily activities. It not only highlights how powerful habits are, but also emphasises just how many we carry out on a day-to-day basis.
Sometimes, though, it’s not that easy to embed a new habit. And while this can occur for a number of reasons, one of the most common is because we’ve simply got too much on our plates already (and we usually don’t even realise it).
The bottom line is that all of us are busy in our own ways and just living our daily lives sees us undertaking a multitude of activities. Therefore, forming a new daily habit might see us extended beyond our capacity (and that’s not a good thing). It can lead to overexertion, becoming ill and even relapse if you are already suffering.
That’s why if you are thinking of starting a new habit or activity, there are some things you need to consider first. Hopefully, by the end of this post, you’ll be in a better position to start your new activity the Helpful way.
Start by mapping your activities
First and foremost, it’s important to stop and consider what one of your typical days look like? That’s because even though you don’t think you are doing very much ordinarily, the reality is you probably are, and the only way to find out is to jot everything down.
Just living our lives takes time and sees us carrying out an enormous amount of activities on a daily basis, even though it might not always feel like it.
Basic stuff, like doing the laundry, washing the dishes and cleaning the house, takes up a considerable amount of time. You just don’t realise it because you’re usually running on autopilot. We then add more stuff into our daily routines and end up sailing close to the wind. We get stressed out because we are falling behind. The simple fact though is that life takes time.
Then there’s the fact you’ve probably never actually analysed how much time things like your daily activities consume.
That’s why one of the most beneficial things you can do is to conduct a review of your current activities. Start by mapping out a typical day and documenting in 30-minute chunks everything you actually do from when you wake up to when you lay down to sleep. We bet you’ll be surprised just how long seemingly simple tasks take.
Now, while you can do this with a simple pen and paper, we actually have a Helpful tool you can take advantage of. The Helpful Clinic activity mapper allows you to document exactly what you are doing each day. If nothing else, it will highlight just how busy you are on a ‘normal’ day.
For good measure, take a weekday and a Saturday or a Sunday so you can create a map of all your activities to understand what your ‘normal’ life actually looks like, rather than what you pretend it looks like.
Maps are extremely powerful (even though we often take them for granted). But when you consider that they can be the difference between you arriving at your destination or getting lost, the importance of maps really shines through.
Then ask, is it Helpful?
Armed with your newly mapped data, assess your activities and identify which ones are helpful and which are unhelpful.
If you uncover any activities that are unhelpful, consider whether you need to maintain them, or if you can do them differently.
For example, if the thought of wandering around a supermarket fills you with dread and/or undertaking this activity physically and mentally drains you, why not consider shopping online. It’s a simple switch, but one that could turn out to be ultimately helpful in the long run.
If an activity can be done away with completely, great! It will give you more free time to focus on your other Helpful activities and/or add new activities into your day.
It’s not what you do…
Now a recurring theme we often talk about here at The Helpful Clinic is also the title of a rather kitsch 80s song by Bananarama and Fun Boy Three:
The point is it might not be the activity itself, but the state of being you are in when you are doing it that makes it unhelpful. So while driving to work might seem like a straightforward activity, the state you are in whilst driving is the determines wether this is helpful or unhelpful to you.
If bumper to bumper traffic when you’re already running late means that you are white-knuckling it all the way (that means gripping the steering wheel so tightly that your knuckles go white), you will be arriving at work exhausted, tense and maybe even in pain.
Likewise, spending your whole time while driving stressing about being late will empty your energy tank, leaving you drained and less able to do what you want to do when you arrive at your destination. Plus, there’s the fact you won’t get there any quicker either, so you’re actually stressing for nothing.
If your state of being is calmer – not necessarily fully calm, but more relaxed – you’ll expend less energy, be less likely to aggravate pain and you’ll be in a better state to do what you want to do when you get to your destination. It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it…!
And this applies to anything. If you brush your teeth to firmly and vigorously, you will use up more energy than you need AND you’re likely to aggravate your gums, leaving you at increased risk of receding gums and gum disease.
Setting yourself up to succeed (and not fail) by doing a realistic number of activities in a way that’s not rushed or stressed or tense will ultimately lead to a more helpful day.
And don’t forget your ‘why bother’
Remember your ‘why bother’ from our previous post? That is, why are you starting the new activity/habit in the first place? What’s your ultimate motivation for doing so? If it’s because you think you ‘should’ do it, your chances of keeping it up are going to be less than if you know the specific benefits and keep those as your focus.
A great way to keep you focussed on your ‘why bother’ is to have a reminder, such as a screensaver, phone notification, picture, etc. in your line of sight during the day where you’ll spot it and remember to do your new habit. This simple aid works in the same way as the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ principle (just opposite) and it’s very simple, yet extremely powerful.
Make choices that are conducive to you feeling better. Stop doing unhelpful activities and focus on ones that are helpful. Remember, you don’t have to please everyone. And if you find it difficult to stop doing something that’s unhelpful, get curious about why it’s unhelpful.
While it’s easier said than done, help is available and you may need to give yourself the permission to reach out for it. Whether it’s someone like us here at The Helpful Clinic, a colleague or a friend, it’s okay to ask for help.
Feelings and symptoms are information. If you struggle to not do something that’s unhelpful, there will be a reason why. Unless you get curious to discover the root cause, you’ll never find out and won’t be able to change it.