Anything worth doing is never easy. I've lived a good majority of my life with this quote in the forefront of my mind. It's a constant reminder that if something is proving itself difficult to accomplish, it will likely provide a more satisfying outcome. This month, I'd like to talk about two topics that fit directly into this category: habits and happiness.
I've spoken before in different means about habits, their power over us and how we are basically a sum of the choices we make day in and day out. But I still see people who have a lot of trouble when trying to break a bad habit. I think one of the main reasons is that we think we'll undo weeks, months or possibly years of unconditioned behavior if we just really try for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, once habits are created and that habit loop is finalized in our brain, it can take a long time to undo.
The wisdom used to say 21 days to make or break a habit. More recently, I've seen 66 days. But I wonder who's coming up with these exact, attention-grabbing, headline-making numbers. Moreover, how can we give one flat number for all 7 billion people? Something seems screwy.
The actual science of creating a good habit happens much quicker. Basically, when you do/think/feel something and get a bump of feel-good emotion with it, you can create that action as a habit. With repeated performance, the likelihood of that habit being cemented increases. It's apparently that simple. Hopefully that can help to improve your chances of picking up good habits.
Unfortunately, the breaking of that same habit can be a slower process - sometimes much more so for some than others. But that doesn't mean it's impossible. What it does mean is that you have to know you're in it for the long haul. You have to prepare yourself to stay vigilant. You have to stay strong.
Think about someone trying to quit smoking. Most of us know smoking is bad for you; it's certainly not a secret. Yet so many people still do it. The logic behind knowing its risk is not lost on us, but it does little to urge us to quit. But what if the doctor tells you if you don't quit smoking you may die in five years? The emotion behind your want to live may give you the wherewithal to finally put down the cancer sticks.
But even with that newfound strength, let's think about this scenario. Most smokers have routines, rituals even, around their smoking. Let's say we change up that routine and alter our usual path throughout the day. Let's say we go four weeks without a single cigarette. But then we have a particularly stressful day, and we just need to have one. So you smoke your first cigarette in over a month. And suddenly those same chemical pathways are reignited. Maybe not as strongly as they once were, but you've just made it more difficult for yourself to drop the habit completely.
Take this scenario and apply it to anything you may want to stop doing. Eating sweets or fried foods, sleeping in, binge-watching shows on Netflix, shopping - it could be anything. To break a bad habit, you have to rework your routines, but more so you have to starve that habit loop. Slowly, over time, your chances of success will increase. But the point is you have to work at it. You have to be aware of it, which leads me to happiness.
It seems like there are a lot of unhappy people in the world. Not that they're unhappy all day long, but it's more of a general unhappiness with interspersed moments of "I'll be happy when ..." and an overall yearning for something better. I'm here to tell you that happiness, much like habits, is something that has to be consistently worked on.
We all need to have goals in life, a reason to get up with a fire in our heart and a smile on our face. It's important to strive for those goals and work on ourselves each day to take steps toward accomplishing them. But it's dangerous to live in a state of happiness that is conditional on reaching those goals. You have to learn how to enjoy the life you have while pursuing the one you want. This is not easy and is something that I am always trying to remember and am constantly working on. But keeping that thought on my mind helps tremendously.
Outside of being physically active and eating a proper diet (hey, I'm a trainer, I had to sneak that in somewhere), it's important to find activities you enjoy. Those could include reading, hiking, spending time with loved ones, traveling and so much more. But we should look for things that recharge our batteries, not just let us mentally check out and stare at a TV or computer screen in a daze. Look for fun, engaging activities that you look forward to doing.
In addition, peace of mind is crucial to finding happiness. This is where the balance between having goals and being happy becomes tricky. We need goals to strive for, but it's so easy to become so focused and determined on those goals that we forgo our current sense of enjoyment. We think that to accomplish great things, we must sacrifice our current comfort. While, yes, this may sometimes be true, it is more important to look at the bigger picture. Is your goal igniting your passion and fueling your heart, or is it draining you and everyone around you? It really can become a fine line.
Just know that whether you're trying to drop a bad habit or trying to find daily happiness, both are possible, but both take work. Success in both realms is possible if only we stay focused on the bigger picture, are mindful of our current feelings and realize that this is the only life we have to live. Until next month, live life to the fullest and have no regrets, wherever you may be in your journey!
Andy Frisch, NASM CPT, CES, PES, WFS, IFT, NESTA FNC, is a successful personal trainer and nutrition coach who enjoys working with clients of all shapes, sizes and ages. He currently train clients at Sports Village Fitness in Lebanon, works with clients online at www.FreshEvolutionFitness.com and has a budding YouTube channel.