You wouldn’t think it would be hard to change your daily habits once you got healthy after being sick for a long time, right? I complained for a lotta years about not being able to do so many things, many of them that had just been habits of daily living; I was sick and very fatigued all the time. Eleven years worth of fatigue, and messing up what used to be some pretty great, regular habits. I was pretty excited to get back to my normal self.
I’ve been reading about habits and how they are formed, changed, and messed up in this book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It’s a popular book and it’s well-written, based on scientific studies of the brain, groups, teams, individuals, animals; people like good habits, or at least to think about them. I like good habits, but I recently discovered, maybe a couple of months ago, that I’ve got some pretty crummy habits. Not just little ones or a very few. A lot of them and they’re major habits, too.
One of the discoveries the scientists made about habits is that they are based on three pieces of information: the cue, the action, and the reward. Yeah, they did studies on monkeys and all that. Then on people, too, especially in trying to help them change an annoying habit – like smoking or nail-biting or drinking excess alcohol.
I do not bite my nails or smoke cigarettes or drink any alcohol. But now I do procrastinate and I just sit when I think of something I want to do. When I was sick, doing a whole bunch of stuff (yes, even writing) made me very tired because I was always baseline tired. My reward for no activity was not feeling so tired, so I felt rested. I was not entirely satisfied with that, though. In fact, I was pretty pissed off about it. But the habit is still with me even though I would rather feel satisfied that I did the activity. And have a sense of completion and competence. In fact, that was exactly what that “want to do something” cue looked like before I got sick. My reward was that deep sense of satisfaction of completion and competency and sometimes even excellence.
Once I had that awareness that something was really amiss, I told a good friend about it. She had also experienced a very long bout of chronic illness and the lights came on for her, too, when I told her about this thing. Now at least I have someone to talk to about it. It is hard to develop a habit and to change a bad one. It takes, in the end, something they’ve identified as belief. It can be belief in God but it doesn’t have to be anyone or anything religious. You can believe in your team, or the group you belong to (even my small group of two), or simply that “everything is going to work out.” Yes, there is the practice of the habit, but they kept finding alcoholics falling off the wagon when something really awful happened in their lives – and they would revert to drinking again. In other words, they had first stopped the drinking without belief in anything, so they weren’t well-grounded when something catastrophic happened.
I’m trying to make it easy to get the good habit back. And believe everything will work out. But some days when I look around at the end of the day and I feel not enough has been done (as in EVERYTHING), I feel pretty disappointed in myself. Then I listen to music or read for awhile or do some writing. I watch movies, too. And say out loud, “Everything is going to work out, Dana, so just chill.”