“We are what we repeatedly do” Aristotle
I’m a big fan of habits. When something becomes a habit, it allows the automatic part of the brain to take over, relieving the smaller, thinking part of the brain to engage in loftier pursuits (like how to word the perfect Facebook status update). I also like that we’ve gone back to a somewhat archaic way of thinking, that forming habits takes good old-fashioned will power. You’ve just got to do it. And then again. And then again. Or in the case of breaking a habit, you just have to not do it. And not do it again. And again. And so on.
So, if habits take will-power, how can we build that will-power? I’m really looking forward to going to workshop in May with the Master of Willpower (Baumeister) where I hope to shed more light on this. But in the meanwhile, I am taking a page from his book (ha-ha) that says we build willpower by choosing a small, unrelated habit and sticking to it. This might be straightening our posture, for example. Or in my case, flossing.
I started flossing in earnest when I knew I had some big habits to form and break and knew that I had to work on discipline. I blended in the Japanese art of Kaizen (start with teeny tiny steps so you don’t startle your brain into rebellion) and began with just flossing one tooth. After a fortnight, I was flossing every day and thereby building my will power. What do you know, it works! Soon I was not drinking, not biting my nails, not scarfing whole blocks of chocolate, exercising regularly and so on. They all take time and effort but once they became habitual, the habits stuck.
Until there came The Unraveling.
The pressure was on, and not just ordinary pressure, but emotional pressure. Three or four major stressors were working in concert. Add to this a seemingly endless patch of gray weather, mix in a few weeks of broken sleep and the edges of my habits began to fray. And it seems that once one got knocked over, the rest began to unravel really quickly. I stopped walking so much which is my best form of exercise and the next thing I was walking by the chocolate aisle and seemed powerless in placing the chocolate in the trolley. The glass of wine on a weekend quickly extended to a glass of wine a night. I started biting my nails again. My will power and my won’t power ran dry, with the final result that I lay in bed at night full of guilt and self -loathing. Not a great way to live.
So, time to buck up again and face things with grit. I approached and faced the emotional stressors and I decided to re-instigate the good habits, then knock off the bad ones.
You guessed it, it started with unraveling the dental floss. I’m almost back on track now and continuing. I can recommend it, folks. Start small, real small, then keep going. Just keep going.