By Scott Rowsick
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”
Aristotle said it first. We as humans have known this simple fact for literally thousands of years. We are what we repeatedly do—our habits. Many of us go as far as to identify ourselves in this manner.
“What do you do?”
“Oh, I’m a sales director.”
Or “I’m a therapist.”
Or “I’m a construction worker.”
We put in 35 to 65 (or more) hours per week doing these things, so they become who we are. These responses become automatic. But aren’t there other things we do on a regular basis with which we do not identify? I don’t think many of us would proudly boast being a sleeper, though we do it 50 60 hours per week. We aren’t commuters, though we do that five hours or more per week. We aren’t over eaters, though many of us do that (guilty as charged).
We do, however, identify ourselves with the things in which we find the most pleasure. I’m a parent I’m a husband. I’m a wife. I’m a musician. We identify with these things because they bring great joy to our lives.
Take a look at your habits. From the moment you wake up, you’re entrenched in your daily habits. The morning routine, the work day, dinner, the evening after work—no matter your shift or schedule, you’re going to go through a myriad of routines and habits that have been formed and reinforced over the years. And these habits are the building blocks of our days, while our days are the pieces of the mosaic of our lives. We are our habits.
In this comes great power. I cannot say it more simply than this; if you change your habits, you will change your life. Habits are formed by our brains in order to make our brains and lives more efficient. Without them, we would have to consciously think about everything—which side of bed we get out on, whether we turn the coffee pot on before or after we pour our cereal, which leg to put in our pants first, which apps to check on our phones first, etc. We consciously think less because of the habits we’ve adopted, and our brains have time and space for more important things as a result.
Some habits are destructive, though. And these destructive habits aren’t just limited to addictions like smoking, overeating, or drugs. Habits can be so slight that we aren’t aware of them. Some develop the habit to bight their nails when they’re nervous. Some rock a leg. I personally have a habit of touching my nose (weird, I know).
Or, I should say, had a habit of touching my nose.I couldn’t help it. It just happened. Anytime I would zone out, I would come back to reality with the side of my index finger on the tip of my nose. People thought I was picking my nose. It started to get worse.
I started touching my nose when I was nervous. Then I started to do when I was anxious. Touching your face releases hormones that comfort you, and people often touch their faces automatically as a subconscious reaction to an uncomfortable situation. This is why interviewers think those who fidget or touch their necks or faces during interviews are being disingenuous. If you are completely comfortable with your answer, you wouldn’t feel the need to touch your face. I had a personal encounter with this problem throughout my last year of college.
As it turns out, my resume had gotten me plenty of interviews coming out of college, even in a competitive market. I’m also great at interviewing. I had the tools. But I couldn’t stop touching my face. This one bad habit made me look disingenuous to a slew of potential employers, and, therefore got received only three average to below average offers.
Look at what it is you do in your daily life that may be hindering you in achieving your goals? Do you overeat? Just one cookie, it won’t make a difference. Do you go to restaurants and spend too much money on the weekends? I have money in my bank account, and I worked hard this week so I deserve it.
Do you touch your nose? It doesn’t hurt anyone, and it gives me something to do with my hands. Try to think of what you do, why you do it, and what you can do to replace that habit. For me, I knew touching my nose was bad. I knew I had to stop it. At the very least, it just didn’t look professional. So I put a rubber band on my wrist and told myself that every time I caught myself touching my nose, I would snap my wrist with the rubber band. I replaced one habit with another, and linked the replacement habit to pain. Soon, I didn’t have either habit.
If you overeat, it’s most likely due to stress or boredom. These emotions trigger your habit. Catch yourself in the moments when you’re triggered, and replace the habit. It will take some time. Your brain has a sort of inertia to it; it doesn’t want to stop action A until action A is acted upon by action B. When you feel boredom and want to eat due to it, take a short walk. If you’re in an office, walk over to a colleague in a different department. If you’re at home, walk around your house, block, or apartment complex. Just be sure it’s something you can sustain doing many times over.
If you spend too much money at restaurants on the weekend, it’s probably due to an overall habit of spending too much money. Most of the people I’ve encountered that do this tend to be those who commonly buy frivolous items that sit on shelves or in closets, or give them some sort of status. This bad habit will take more time and concerted effort to fix. But it starts with getting to that grocery store and buying food that you will enjoy cooking, making that first Saturday night meal at home, and enjoying your time there.
Replacing the bad habit with the good one and having the discipline to be patient with yourself as you do it is the key to all of this. After that’s been mastered, you master your life. You can begin to enjoy reading books and learning new skills instead of wasting the night in front of the television. You can go to the park for a run instead of going to the bar for a drink. The possibilities are endless—you can practically become a new person. Aristotle said we are our habits. So try it. Be something new today, something better; a better you.