Men’s Health Habits: Make Them, Don’t Break Them
As published in the February/March issue of Best Self Atlanta.
As we approach Spring, we sometimes find our New Year’s resolutions slipping away. All too often, we center our efforts on correcting our weaknesses rather than building upon our strengths. So, why should we focus on our strengths to achieve our goals? Here are the reasons:
Foundation: Weaknesses tend to lack the foundation upon which we can build improvement. For instance, you decide to wake up one hour early so that you can go for a bicycle ride several days per week. Making this a longstanding routine will be challenging since you are trying to form a new habit from scratch. However, perhaps you have the gift of gab. Join a cycling club. With this approach, you combine an existing skill (being a social butterfly) with a new habit (regular cycling).
Motivation: We all enjoy doing what we are good at doing. When we do more of the same, we develop even more expertise. Rinse and repeat. For example, maybe you hate to run intervals but enjoy lifting weights. Try incorporating a weekly weightlifting routine that increases your heart rate in 30-second intervals.
Efficiency: Creating a new skill is often necessary to correct an area of weakness. Improving an existing skill is much easier and quicker.
Self-confidence: Building on strengths avoids repeated trial-and-error and leads to recurring success. The resulting self-confidence will infiltrate other areas of personal and professional performance.
Specialization: More and more, we live in a world of specialization. As life becomes more complex, above-average skills grow in demand. Correspondingly, the gaps in abilities can be filled with workarounds such as delegation and outsourcing. An example would be engaging a personal trainer to overcome a plateau.
Should we always avoid fixing our weaknesses? Of course, not. First of all, we can often find that improving one strength will improve a weakness. For example, a modest increase in our exercise routine can improve our sleep patterns. Also, if a weakness creates a bottleneck by impeding our strengths, we have no choice but to correct that weakness (e.g., oversleeping and missing important business meetings).
When it comes to habits, it is always easier to form a good habit rather than to break a bad habit. In fact, changing a bad habit into a good habit is a clever workaround—in essence, “making” a good habit from a bad habit. In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, a habit consists of three components—the cue, the routine, and the reward. The cue is a trigger that makes the behavior (routine) unfold automatically (without thought). The routine is the component that we want to change. A repeated craving for the resulting reward is what keeps the habit going.
The first step in this transformation is clearly identifying the trigger and the specific reward that feeds the craving. The new routine must then be triggered by the same cue and yield the same reward. One common example is the person who watches YouTube videos for a couple of hours every afternoon. The reward is not actually the video itself, but rather the opportunity to free the mind from life’s daily stressors. The trigger is the time of day. The routine is sitting on the couch, and it is this component of the habit can be changed to walking on a treadmill while watching the same videos. Perhaps this “new” habit can become a “keystone” habit upon which other good habits are built.