I’ve just read another article in the popular press about how to break bad habits. The expert’s answer? Be mindful.
“The trick is to be mindful of our behaviours, no matter how trivial they may seem. Ask yourself questions like: ‘Why do I want that cookie? Why do I want to say such a cruel thing? I am yawning, so why am I staying up to watch another episode? Why am I looking at my phone instead of enjoying my meal?’”
Are you kidding?
I get the theory. It’s about engaging what they referred to as “logic circuits”, shifting from subconscious to conscious decision-making. I’ve borrowed the analogy of an elephant and rider to explain something similar in the past.
But seriously, this is a fast-track to failure if you are seeking to change habits. Expecting to self-police your lifestyle might last a day, maybe a few days, but pretty soon you will get bored or tired and forget why you were bothering.
Forget mindfulness, be mindless
Our natural state is to think as little as possible about most things. We develop habits to reduce cognitive effort, saving brain power for decisions that are more important and/or unexpected.
So rather than being mindful, I believe doing the right thing mindlessly is what we should aim for. It’s our superpower.
How? Set up your world so you default to the best behaviour. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Store treats you want to eat in line of sight. On the bench or at eye level in the fridge, for example. Store treats you don’t want to eat out of sight, in opaque containers and in hard to reach places.
- Use smaller bowls, spoons and glasses so your brain is sated before your belly is.
- Buy pre-cut veggies if it will increase your likelihood of actually eating them.
- Join a gym close to home or work so you don’t have to go out of your way.
- Put exercise clothes next to your bed so you can get changed and moving as soon as you wake up.
- Keep floss next to your toothbrush rather than in a drawer so you are prompted to use it.
- Hang out with people who already behave in a way you admire, because they will rub off on you.
- Place your devices charging station in an out of the way location at home so they are out of sight, out of mind overnight.
- Turn off alerts and notifications on your devices so you reduce the risk of interruption.
When it comes to changing habits, the more mindless you can be — the more you can reduce intellectual graft — the easier you will find it to do the right thing on a sustained and enjoyable basis.