Wake up. Drink pre-workout. Exercise. That’s been my morning routine for as long as I can remember. As I was working through my New Years resolutions, I realized this habit was so ingrained I couldn’t even imagine what another routine might look or feel like. This spawned questions. Was it adding to my life or detracting? Was all that caffeine making me tired later in the day or giving me an essential morning boost? Would I feel better exercising at night?
These are questions I couldn’t answer, not knowing the impact of alternatives. Whenever I find myself this immersed in a particular habit, I reflecting on its impact in my life and consider experimenting as well. In this instance, I decided to cut the pre-workout and eliminate caffeine from my diet for a week (which is probably a bit short for something like this, but a good starting point).
I didn’t do it to prove to myself I had the willpower to exercise without it. I didn’t do it because I thought caffeine was ruining my life and I wanted to move on without it. My motivations were far simpler; I just wanted to see if adjusting these habits would make me more or less happy. The outcome of the experiment is irrelevant, what’s important is recognizing even small adjustments like this can, over time, have massive impacts on happiness.
Don’t wait for forced changes.
Many of us are saddled with habits we’ve had so long, we can’t imagine what life would be like without them. Most of us don’t revisit these habits unless they cause a significant reduction in our happiness. Wow, I’ve gained 20 pounds. Those couple beers after work every night have really added up. Maybe I better cut it.
At this point, however, all the momentum is against us. It’s a habit we’ve built over a long period of time and now we have the pressure of desired outcomes pushing against us. If I don’t stop drinking after work, I’m just going to keep gaining weight. This is difficult and stressful, as it often feels like we don’t have any choice or alternatives.
Of course, these can be useful motivations for getting us to take action toward more positive and healthy states. With a little foresight, however, we can get ahead of these habits before they cause problems. Even better, we can make small adjustments that increase our happiness, that we would have never encountered otherwise.
How To Cycle Personal Habits
The idea of habit cycling is to intentionally introduce small interruptions into your daily routine. As you make these choices, monitor how they interact with your well-being. To really get a good feel for what difference is like, we most often need to try this interruption for somewhere between a week and a month. That way we can see what it would be like as a part of our day, instead of a one-off exception.
This provides a few benefits. First, we get the opportunity to experientially challenge some of our assumptions. Do we really enjoy buying coffee in the morning instead of making it at home? Is that really the fastest way to get to work? Do I really enjoy scrolling through social media on my phone every day? Do I actually feel better getting up early on the weekends?
The answers may be unsurprising, but it’s also possible you have habits you don’t enjoy much at all. I’m not saying you need to change your entire life, but a little experimentation can yield surprising results. Much of what we choose to do runs on autopilot, breaking free isn’t easy, but it can be informative.
In addition, don’t think this just applies to ‘bad’ habits. Don’t be afraid to experiment with ‘good’ habits as well. Move them to other times of the day. Eliminate them for a few days. Anything to figure out what impact they truly have on your life. Only then can you make an informed decision about whether or not they should stay.
In addition to giving you the information you actually need to optimize happiness, habit cycling also adds some novelty to your routine. By changing your personal habits, even slightly, you engage yourself in the day to day a bit more. The slight changes will force you to pay attention to tasks that were otherwise automated.
For those of us who get deeply stuck in a routine and start getting bored, cycling personal habits is a great way to add small, achievable goals to the week. Especially while we’re working on other, larger projects. These small wins can leave us feeling happier while adjusting our life toward overall greater happiness. It’s worth a shot if you don’t like it, just return to your old routine.
- What do you do so often you can’t imagine life being any different?
- How could you alter or remove one of those habits?
- What might you uncover by cycling out personal habits?