Something a friend of mine said three days ago continues to bug me.
She asked if I still woke up at 5 a.m. every day.
I said, “I try,” without adding that I’ve been failing miserably in 2014.
For the latter half of 2014, I was having hives attacks nightly. This not only disrupted my sleep, but also my entire body rhythm including my will to go to the gym, and consequently, my ability to wake up at 5 a.m.
She retorted, “Try what try? (That’s slang talk amongst Singaporeans). No need to try. You are naturally disciplined.”
I was pissed but contained myself, “Nooo.”
She insisted, “Yes, you are naturally disciplined.”
“You have always been very disciplined,” she decided without allowing me to get another word in edgewise.
I consider myself a procrastinator. Before sitting down to write this piece, I procrastinated for three days—cleaned my desk, rearranged the electronic files between hard disks, and cleared out my messages in my inbox on my laptop, then cell phone, thrice. You get the drift.
Three years ago, if you had asked if I had discipline, I would have said a resounding, “No.”
I develop some form of discipline because I had to.
After a breakup, I had depression, worsened by the onslaught of hives for 10 months. Determined to get out of this rut, I decided to exercise for a minimum of 10 minutes a day for 28 days.
Once I set this pact with myself, I feared I wouldn’t be able to attain even this small goal. I looked at my elastic schedule, being that I am self-employed, and realised it would have to be in the morning.
And so I began exercising on a cross-trainer type machine at a public park. As I got stronger, I began experimenting with times that felt best for me and it was 6 a.m. It is now 5 a.m.
After 28 days with depression held at bay, I decided to continue this practice for as long as I could. I’ve been pretty much exercising regularly ever since. Exercise has become a daily practice, my routine—and a habit.
In the book, “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, talks about how people succeed when they identify patterns that shape their lives—and learn how to change them.
Before depression, I didn’t know I was capable of discipline or the importance of it. My life has changed so much as a result of this one habit.
According to Duhigg, habits make up 40% of our daily routine. The process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells our brain to go into automatic mode and which behaviour to use. Second, there is the routine, which can be physical, mental or emotional. Finally, there is the reward.
So, if Cue + Routine + Reward = Habit, then:
My old pattern:
Cue = The alarm rings. Routine = I roll over and hit the snooze button having scheduling time to sleep in. Reward = Postpone starting another dreaded day.
Cue = When the alarm rings, I jump out of bed already wearing my exercise clothes. Routine = I put on my shoes and head downstairs for my exercise without even brushing my teeth. Reward = Honoured my commitment to be good to myself and love me first.
The author of “The Power of Habit” explained that our brain works hard to integrate our actions into our life, processing huge amounts of new information as we progress through the activity. As soon as we understand how it works, our behaviour starts becoming automatic and the amount of mental effort required to perform the activity decreases.
Over time, I recognise my mind was resisting exercise less, and my body was beginning to look forward to this routine. The simple pleasure of returning to my body entered. Joy came next. I began to thrive.
By focusing on that one thing—exercising for 10 minutes a day—I was breaking things down into such a small step that I wasn’t overwhelmed. Then when our habit is automatic, we can add another one. I felt so great that I began to journal daily, and even bought breakfast for my dad before he headed to work on occasion.
I believe now more than ever that our daily habits create the foundation of our life––from health, wealth, happiness, productivity, quality of relationships, to energy level. By becoming more mindful, we can create the intention to interrupt patterns that don’t serve us. From there, we can establish positive habits that lead to a happy and prosperous life.
If you could cultivate just one positive habit, what would it be? And your Cue + Routine + Reward?
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Martha Lee
Editor: Travis May