Making and breaking habits

Habit is a powerful thing. When can get something on autopilot, it can be awesome or disastrous.

When something becomes a habit, you never even think twice about it. It just happens.

I drink orange juice. I always have. When I run low, I put it on the list without thinking twice about it, really. Logically, I could find healthier options for vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and vitamin D (allergic to milk, so I’ve always bought this kind). But I don’t because I drink orange juice in the morning. It’s just something that I do.

And now I’m trying to make running a habit. I’m doing as much as I can to make it the case. I keep running gear at home and at work so that I can always run. I’ve added in specific goals that will bite me in the ass if I don’t run regularly. And I’ve been telling people and trying to get them to run 5Ks with me when they can.

I’m also trying to get in the habit of eating healthier. That’s much tougher hill to climb. I like food, especially when it’s generally considered bad for me. I know I’m not going to eat perfectly, so I’m trying to make as many little decisions right so that at least some of those become habit.

The one true healthy eating victory that I’ve ever achieved was in switching to whole grains. If it’s bread or rice, it’s always the whole grain variety. It might not seem like a lot, but I consume vast quantities of rice, especially when I’m trying to eat healthy. A lot of my vegetables are stir-fry, so rice becomes an easy sidekick.

The big clarity moment for me understanding the power of habit was my on-again, off-again-relationship with cable.

For years, I watched an obnoxious amount of TV. Like 8 hours a day when I was only awake and at home between 8 and 10 hours a day. TV was always on. I did homework during commercials. I played guitar during commercials. I always had a show I watched every day. And in the non primetime TV hours, I would watch some of the worst crap ever.

I reached rock bottom when I started watching Disney, including Hannah Montana. Sad but true.

But I was saved because the cable company sucked. In the span of three months, they lost my bill two times and then charged me extra for that. I’ve never had mail get lost in either direction except for these two times. And so I got stubborn and angry, then cancelled my cable.

Aside from living on a ranch for about a year when I was 6, I’ve always had cable. I’ve always watched too much TV. And now I didn’t have TV.

It was an odd transition. The first couple of days especially so because I didn’t have an antennae yet for even broadcast channels. I didn’t have internet at home either (same company that did the cable, so I wasn’t going to stop paying for cable only to start paying for internet).

But I adapted. I bought an antennae, so I could at least get 3 PBS stations (pbs, pbs world, and create), CBS, CW, MY(insert whatever they call it in your part of the world), and ABC. No NBC, and such bad FOX reception that I finally gave up on it.

Now let’s take a guess at which of these channels I would typically watch if all were available. That’s right, FOX, followed by NBC.

I would watch some shows, but there really wasn’t much that I wanted to watch on the remaining channels. I would check to see if anything was on, but typically I read or watched a DVD.

The DVDs were an odd coping mechanism. I had bought some shows on DVD, but once I cancelled my cable, I usually bought a season of something on DVD every couple of months. But being DVDs, I watched them intentionally, not casually like I would watch TV.

And so before I moved from Florida, I wasn’t in the habit of absentmindedly turning on the TV.

Now I’m in Mississippi, and cable and internet are included in my rent. And I rarely turn the TV on. I watch some games on the weekend, and I’ll watch some shows, typically HBO’s original shows like Newsroom.

I just got out of the habit of watching TV.

And now I’ve got to figure out a way to get running and eating healthy into an absentminded habit, and we’ll be good to go.



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