Aug 21 | 8 min read

When discussing stress management, the conversation about habits comes into play.

Your habits over time (conscious and unconscious) will determine how effectively you manage your stress and that, in turn, will impact your health. They also can lend to burnout or Adrenal Fatigue when not managed effectively or intentionally.

Welcome to Part 2 of our habits discussion. I shared how creating awareness about our habits is the first step to understanding how habits are present in your life. In this blog post, I want to focus on HOW to create new habits and how to break a habit that is contributing to your stress level.

As I mentioned in the previous blog post, I have derived some of this from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. This book makes a strong argument for shifting our focus from goal-centered to habit-centered. He offers more evidence for what I have been saying over and over, and that is, a goal without a plan or process cannot be achieved. The processes that need to be in place happen to be habits.

To recap: a habit is an automatic solution that solves a problem or stressor you face regularly.

Our automatic response may be positive or negative, but it is, nonetheless, responding to a problem.

WHY WE FEEL STRESSED

As I help women understand where their stress stems from, it usually boils down to habits. Specifically, habits in response to situations that pull us out of comfort. So many of us are living out of reactivity instead of intention.

  • We wake up and pick up our phone and start checking email.
  • We mindlessly scroll through social media instead of doing whatever it is we are procrastinating.
  • We automatically volunteer whenever asked.
  • A hurried breakfast consists of a donut and coffee on our way to work every morning for a morning “pick-me-up”.
  • We end each night with a glass of wine to wind down.
  • We stay up late working because we need to “catch-up”.
  • We work through our lunch hour because we don’t have enough time in our day.
  • We mindlessly snack.
  • We answer every email as it comes in and keep stopping the work that moves us forward in our business.
  • We sleep with our phones next to us.
  • We say yes to everything and then feel resentful that we take on too much.
  • We pick up our phones 37 times a day to see what we have missed.

We have a never-ending to-do list but never feel productive.

We don’t sleep. We don’t eat. We don’t exercise. We stress-eat. We over-exercise. We sleep too much…every single one of these things slowly build into habits. We start once as a solution to a problem. It turns into a coping mechanism. Before you know it, we have a full-blown habit whether we like it or not.

Habits that we have created (intentional or not) are all reflective of a desire to solve a problem. Sometimes, our habits mask the symptom rather than get to the root cause.

For example, if you struggle with a particular habit that you wish you didn’t have, you notice that when you are sad, angry, hurt, or tired, you use that habit in response to your emotions. Your immediate response is to find something to comfort you. You have an emotion that makes you uncomfortable. It creates tension. You don’t want to FEEL what you are currently feeling. You desire to numb the pain/emotion. You want to feel happy again. So, you…fill in the blank here.

The problem with this model? You are temporarily suppressing emotions that you don’t want to feel by increasing dopamine with binge-watching Netflix, sugar, alcohol, shopping, social media, sex or pornography, etc. You are substituting habits to cope with the pain you don’t want to feel. However, you never learn to deal with the emotions. FEELING is a difficult thing because it oftentimes leaves us vulnerable and that is usually the last thing we want to feel. However, we were created to experience emotion and feelings.

Brene Brown said it best when she said we cannot selectively numb emotions. By numbing painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions, leaving us to experience less joy & happiness.

Maybe you are aware of the mental chaos you are creating with some of your habits and you are ready to break unhealthy habits or create new, healthy habits that will elevate your results. Creating habits isn’t about finding a new “hack” or short-cut to get to a desired end-result.

“Habits are the entry point, not the end point.” -James Clear

Writing out your goals every day for 30 days won’t get you any closer to your goals because you haven’t created a PROCESS of habits. Looking at your goals every day doesn’t get you closer, either. Action gets you closer.

START SMALL

First off, you have to change your mind which tells you that massive success requires MASSIVE action. We make it way harder to create change than it needs to be. You can build on the success of small, intentional habits. That is what creates sustainable results!

Taking a walk for 30 minutes every day might not seem like a major transformation is taking place. But after a year, you will have moved your body for 182.5 hours! You will have built endurance, burned calories, increased your lung capacity, increased muscle tone and strength, and improved heart health.

Reading one book a month will lead you to have read 12 books in a year!

Writing for an hour a week, will result in 52 hours of words written per year (and possibly a book deal!).

Spending two hours per week learning a new skill will result in over 100 hours of knowledge learned!

These are HUGE gains!

“All big things come from small beginnings.” -James Clear

However, I see so many clients that will start a protocol but don’t see the dramatic results in a few weeks and give up because they don’t feel like a large enough change is happening! So then they quit the habits they are building because it just isn’t working. This is where they stress out even more and can lead themselves towards burnout.

If you kept working towards your goal of going back to school, you could have a Masters or Doctorate degree in 2-4 years. That is mind blowing to me! Especially when you look back at your year and wish that you would have been persistent in working towards the you that you want to become!

We want big results and we desire it to come quickly! Why is that? We have goals that seem to have an end. We want to run a marathon, we want to make a certain amount of money, we want to have a certain number of clients, we want to lose a specific amount of weight, etc.

Once we get to that goal, we tend to STOP doing everything we did we get to that point!

How many people do you know who lost weight only to gain it back and then some? This is because we get to the “finish line” and then we think we can let everything go back to “normal”, back to comfort and familiarity. We never addressed the habit(s) that was underlying. This is the problem with having goals instead of habits.

I want to create habits that support me being a healthy person with energy, instead of a goal tied to a specific number. I desire to create longevity and enjoy my life to the fullest. I am creating a healthy lifestyle. I am experiencing joy. I am managing my stress better, I am avoiding burnout, I am changing my genetic makeup!

I don’t want to just wake up at 5 AM every day to get more done. I want to become a person that manages my time well.

I don’t want to just check off my quiet time with God each morning. I desire to become closer to God, to get to KNOW Him and know His will for my life.

I don’t just want to write a book. I desire to become a writer.

I don’t want to run a half-marathon. I desire to become a runner.

Can you see the difference?

HOW DO WE CREATE NEW HABITS OR BREAK BAD HABITS?

As you build habits, it becomes easier to do them over time. Your brain doesn’t have to work as hard as it did in the beginning once you start new habits. Eventually, it becomes automatic. Like when you are driving somewhere and then wonder why you are going the way you are- because you normally take this route every day to get to work. That happens to me more often than I would like to admit.

How do we start building new processes to become the person we desire to be?

Interestingly, breaking and building habits start from the same foundation/steps:

1. Cue

2. Craving

3. Response

4. Reward

The cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. If you see the remote on the coffee table, you automatically pick it up and 3 hours later, you have been on a Netflix binge. However, if you put the remote away and had a book on the coffee table. You would pick it up and start reading. You have changed your cue.

Cravings are the motivational force behind every habit. James Clear used the example of smoking a cigarette. You don’t crave a cigarette. You crave the relief it provides. You don’t crave turning on your TV, you crave entertainment. We have to uncover the craving we desire in the habits we build and rather than just let the habits unintentionally form, we create the habits out of purpose and desire.

Response is next. This is the action we take or perform and can be mental or physical. If this action creates more friction or effort than you are willing to give, then you won’t do it, especially for a long period of time. This is where our actions should start small so that we feel they are so easy that it is almost effortless. If I want to read a book a month, but I don’t read at all now, I may start with five or ten minutes per day. That doesn’t create a stress response within my body. It feels very manageable.

Lastly, is the reward. We love rewards! We chase them because they satisfy us and they teach us. The reward will satisfy the craving. They also teach us that our responses, or actions, are worth doing again and remembering. If I desire to manage my time better, I will block out time for each project I have. I will remove distractions during those time blocks. At the end of the day, I will have accomplished my projects and feel great because I was productive! I love that reward, so I will repeat that tomorrow.

This four-step process is a habit loop. Here is an example of the habit loop:

Cue – You wake up

Craving – You want to feel in control of your day and begin feeling overwhelmed by all you must do

Response – You start answering emails in bed from your phone

Reward – You satisfy your craving to be in control of your day and answering emails in bed first thing in the morning becomes associated with waking up and starting your day.

We can use this loop to create and break habits; however, we have different connotations with each step.

We all have habits and whether they are leading us towards progress or keeping us in a negative loop is to be understood based on us being aware of our intentions.

Habits are the small changes that can create enormous results in our lives if we create them intentionally.

NEXT STEPS:

If you struggle with habits and feel like you aren’t making progress towards becoming better at managing your stress or achieving goals and your habits are CAUSING you to feel more stressed (it’s a vicious cycle), schedule a consult call to discuss your specific goals! Let’s create a plan to become unstuck and to move forward towards the you that you want to become.