The Habit of Breaking Habits

In the last post I suggested getting in to the habit of breaking habits as a means to stretching the boundaries of your comfort zone but it is a thought worth exploring more because habits and habitual ways of thinking can impact on our ability to grow.
Now, as a general rule, habits and habitual thinking are a good thing. They are the brains way of creating shortcuts in our thinking because, if we had to stop and think about everything we did, we would never get anything done. Imagine getting yourself ready in the morning if you had to consciously process every step – “now I need to take toothbrush, now I need to open toothpaste and squeeze on to toothbrush, now I need to place toothbrush in mouth” etc. Being habitual means we save thinking time.
It is a bit like our brains having a predictive text system. Most of the time it works fine but occasionally it can all go a bit peer sheeped!
Obviously the mind is significantly more complex than predictive text yet there are similarities worth considering when talking about how we form habits. Predictive text starts by using socially accepted use of language that is the most likely words people will use in the context of what has been said before, the more it gets used the more it becomes individualised to a persons use of language based on what they have said before.
We form habits and habitual ways of thinking over many years, our upbringing creates some, our daily lives others, some come from the society we live in and others from our relationships and the people we chose to connect with.
It is very easy to become habitualised. How often do you find yourself saying something one of parents used to say to you repeatedly? Anything that we do, or happens to us, repetitively over time becomes habitual within us, neural pathways are formed in our brains to ease the need to think of everything. This can easily happen without us even knowing or realising, and it is not until we consciously catch ourselves acting in a certain way, like our parents for example.

The problem comes when those habits and habitual ways of thinking work against us. This can happen for a number of reasons, those habits and thoughts may not be appropriate for a new situation we find ourselves in, they could be holding us back from doing something different or they could simply be out of date.
Think about it on a wider social level. We often see stories that older people just don’t understand younger people today (and those stories have been running for decades!). Yet if we think about it when older people developed their habits and ways of thinking the world was very different from now and where younger people are developing their own habits and ways of thinking based on their society today. What was once the default way of thinking can often be defined as prejudice (or an ..ism) in the current way of thinking.
Coming down to the individual level we all have our own habits and habitual ways of thinking yet we need to question whether all of them are still relevant and still work for us in the best possible way. For example the way we do things at work might have been the ideal way of working a few years ago but as things around us have changed we may need to change what we do in order to perform at our best.
If we can take time occasionally, when we catch ourselves doing things automatically, we can review those habits and question whether or not they are still relevant to us. The next time you flick through channels, ask yourself why you don’t stop at a certain one. Is there someone or something you automatically avoid whenever possible? Ask yourself why and if that reason still applies now.
Habits and habitual thinking are, mostly, a good thing but some of those habits develop into bad ones or simply become outdated and not relevant to our lives right now. We may need to develop new habits and new ways of thinking to help us move on in our lives and to achieve whatever it is we have set our sights on.
Getting into the habit of breaking habits allows us to have a reality check on whether or not our automatic behaviours and thoughts are working in the best possible way for us right now.

Building Your Positive Mindset

If you are in a mid-life rut getting out of it and making changes to improve how you feel about your life seem difficult this is usually because at mid-life we have so many ingrained habits and set ways of thinking that change is harder than it was in our youth.
To successfully begin the process of change for the better we need to start building new habits and ways of thinking and that all starts with developing the positive mindset.
Positive Thinking plus Positive Action
Start by fixing in your mind what successful positive thinking is and is not.
It is not about looking at life through rose-tinted glasses, wandering through life believing that everything is okay with the world and you need to nothing is ultimately unrealistic. Similarly Positive Thinking is not simply trying to will good things into existence that, on its own, is just daydreaming.
Positive thinking is about focusing on ways to move your life forward. It is about having belief in yourself and your abilities to overcome those obstacles in everyday life that get in your way. Positive thinking is about having goals you want to achieve and faith in yourself to be able to actually achieve them.
Effective positive thinking needs to be grounded with realism, accepting that life will throw up challenges and problems. Yet rather than focus on those problems, as most people tend to do, we must focus on solutions and finding ways to move beyond those stumbling blocks. We all have it in us to either overcome the things life throws at us or seek out those who can help us do it.
Effective positive thinking also needs to be a little bit self-centred. We need to be focused on those things only we can have an effect on and not on the actions and deeds of others or events that are beyond our control. Obviously being self-centred doesn’t mean thinking about doing anything that would be detrimental to others but if we can be the best we can be then those closest to us will also benefit.
However no amount of positive thinking will come to anything unless we put those thoughts into action.

That, of course, is not always as easy as it sounds. Stepping outside of our comfort zone is often difficult for a number of reasons, not least because, as the name suggests, in our comfort zone we are comfortable therefore outside that zone is uncomfortable!
We come up with all sorts of excuses to avoid taking that step outside, we don’t have the time, we so many other things to do, we will get around to it but no just yet etc. Our habits and routines, our worries and fears and our beliefs about our abilities all trap us inside the comfort zone.
To build and develop our positive mindset we need to break down those barriers of the comfort zone in order to move forward in the direction we want to take in life. Obviously, as with all things in life, sometimes are easier than others to do this yet waiting until the time is right can just reinforce the comfort zone barrier as it is often to convenient to tell ourselves that we will wait just a little longer until circumstances are even better and that time never comes.
To develop a positive mindset we should start to break down the restrictions of the comfort zone and an effective way of starting that process in getting into the habit of breaking habits!
We all have our daily routines, so we can start by changing one thing every day. Maybe you could change the order of the way you do things when you first get up in the morning, maybe you could change the things you do on the way to work every morning or maybe in the evening you could turn the television off for half an hour an practice you positive thinking.
If we want to become good at anything it takes constant practice, building your positive mindset is no different. Training our minds to think differently, positively will help us break away from the comfort zone which so often holds us back from achieving success and fulfilling our lives.
Building your positive mindset will also build your self-confidence and self-esteem and create a positive cycle of thought, the more we build the stronger the positive mindset becomes.

The Inevitable Truth

There may be many different factors that can impact on our mental well-being as we go through mid-life. These factors are dependent on our personal circumstances, our personality and our own sense of self. Yet there is one common factor we all share.
Mid-life means we are getting ever closer to later life.
And there seems to be some law in the universe that states time goes quicker the older you get, so the second half of the mid-way point will seemingly fly past! As yet (at least at the time of writing!) neither the secrets of immortality nor the Fountain of Youth have been discovered, so we need to prepare for later life.
Not that later life need be something we should worry about. Just look at the number of over 70s running marathons nowadays or the number of pensioners enjoying world travel.
But to be one of those people we need weave the preparations for later life within the goals we develop to improve how we feel right now.
There is an increasing body of scientific knowledge that shows both physical activity and mental stimulation help us live fuller, richer lives in our later years. Physical activity helps keep us mobile, prevents falls and more able to do the daily activities in life that we take for granted today. Mental stimulation helps prevent cognitive decline, keeping our minds sharper and, again, keeps us able to do those daily activities.
Obviously we can’t truly predict what will happen to us in the future but surely it makes sense to make sure we face the future in the best possible shape we can.
Balance is the key.
You may have decided that you want to run that marathon, which is a fantastic way to maintain that physical health to see you into later life, yet you need to use some of that time away from training to stimulate your mind. On the flip side, if you plan to write that novel that has spent years gestating inside your mind remember to take some time away from your keyboard to get in that physical activity.
Of course, as we plan for our transition from mid to later life we have to consider finances. Obviously many have already got those financial plans and pensions in place but for others, even some of those with pensions in place, there will be concerns about how they will cope in later life – another cause of stress in mid-life.
Now it is unlikely you will be able to persuade Bill Gates, Richard Branson or Jack Dorsey to hand you over a million or two, so it is time to take a reality check on your financial future and, once again, weave this into you vision and goals for the future. After all there is no point having a goal to travel more unless you have the money to back up that plan.
Rather than letting the thought of getting older and hurtling toward later life get us down we can start, right now, to build a vision for our future that embraces later life because, after all, it is the inevitable direction we are heading.

Appreciate the Small Wins

There always seems to be plenty of choice around to help you achieve your goals.
The problem is knowing what it is you actually want to  achieve  in life. Mid-life, in particular, can leave us searching for a sense of purpose as things change in our lives.
You could, for example, have had children leave home, an event that challenges many people who have focused so much on being a parent. Perhaps you have found yourself stuck in limbo at work doing the same old job while watching high flying youngster being leap-frogged above you. Or, for no discernible reason, you could find yourself not knowing where your future lies.
Now if, at this point, someone comes along as says “you need to be setting goals for your future” they could be doing more harm than good.
You could well find yourself sinking further as you struggle to come up with those long term goals, knocking your confidence even further, or you could rush headlong into some vision without thinking things through properly and then, in a year or so, find that this new goal is not what you really wanted and you are back to square one, only this time with a lot less enthusiasm to start over again.
If you don’t know, right now, where it is you want to take your future start by taking small steps outside your comfort zone and explore the possibilities before  fully committing  to heading in one direction.
First of all take a little time think of something you would like to do, something relatively small. Is there a hobby or interest you have always fancied pursuing but never got around to doing? Was there an ambition you had way back in your youth that has always been unfulfilled, perhaps you just want to make the effort to get fitter and healthier, maybe you have a favourite holiday destination and would like to learn the local language.
If you want to consider your current working life, what is one thing you could do to make a change there?
Once you have that one thing you would like to do  commit yourself  to pursuing it for a whole 3 months!
YES JUST 12 WEEKS
If you would like to be fitter but have not exercised in quite a while  commit yourself  to walking at least 30 minutes a day, perhaps increasing that to an hour a day in the final month.
If there is a hobby or interest you want to pursue check out local courses at adult education centres, these usually run in 12 weeks slots, or if you are unable to find what you want locally, check online for courses.
Currently I am studying using udemy.com which is easy to use and reasonably priced but there are plenty of others out there to suit most needs.
The point of the exercise is to complete that 12 weeks. By completing that 12 weeks you have  achieved a win. You have been successful.
As important you now know if you would like to pursue whatever it was you did further or, perhaps, if it was not for you after all.

Personally, when I started my study with the Open University, I did not quite know what I wanted to study. So I took two modules one in computing and one in social sciences. The computing module I found interesting but the social science one I found fascinating so that was the subject I continued (and continue) to study.
The most important thing though is  commit yourself  to that 12 week programme. Start building your future through discovering what it is you really want to do rather than leaping head first in to an idea that, ultimately, may not be what you want or really need in your life.

By  successfully completing  those small wins you open up a whole host of things to set you on your way. Firstly you begin really developing that positive mindset, you decided what to do – positive thought and you went out and did it – positive action. Do that a few times and what have you got – a successful habit and, perhaps, more importantly, you start to gain confidence in yourself and your ability to succeed.
Additionally the small tasks will help you develop the bigger picture of where you want to be going forward. You may discard some ideas but others will guide you  onwards to achieving  bigger and better things. The small wins are the beginnings of the foundations on which you can build the rest of your life.

Appreciate the small wins they are the start of something bigger.