Consistency Above All Else

New Years Resolutions are Wonderful, breaking bad habits even better; consistency is what really moves the needle.

I am all for people setting tangible realistic goals and setting out to achieve them.  Even if that means failing and learning a lot about yourself.  I think the setting of goals is what sets doers apart from watchers.  If you are reading this blog and following this site you are probably a doer.  The proverbial Man in the Arena Theodore Roosevelt speaks of. Many of us set goals in the hopes of starting a new habit or breaking an old habit.

If I can commend any book about understanding the psychology of habit it is “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. I recommend picking up this book, reading the first chapters and maybe one or two case studies. Otherwise it does become repetitive, or you can read below for the cliff notes version.

Every habit, good or bad, begins with a Cue, followed by a routine, ending with a reward. Breaking bad habits is all about identifying cues. For many smokers this means something like coffee. If you wake up every day and you get a craving for coffee this cues the routine of making coffee and drinking it. Which is then followed by the reward of that first cigarette. For some the cue can be alcohol. Others use certain drugs to cope with negative feelings, meaning their cue may be feeling down. We can have multiple cues. Breaking a bad habit is all about avoiding cues and interrupting routines.

There are many ways to avoid cues. This is the strategy of removing junk food from the house or refusing to walk by the vending machine at work in order to avoid temptation. We can use replacement strategies like snacking on trail mix with a little bit of candy mixed in, instead of straight candy. Finally we can look to interrupt the routine that leads to the reward or bad habit. This is the act of popping a piece of gum in your mouth the minute you crave something bad for you. Or you can really elevate your routine by replacing your bad reward with a good reward. I once had a Marine who did 10 push ups every time a craving arose while he was quitting chewing-tobacco.

Regardless of all of the information provided on how to develop a habit or shed an old one there is one factor that truly matters. That is consistency. Smoking is our example for this post so I researched the average number of times it takes for a person to quit smoking. The general rule of thumb is 5-7 times. However, a recent study by the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, claimed their survey concluded 30 to be the average number of attempts to quit a bad habit like cigarettes.

You can drop 20 pounds this year, and put it right back on in less than a month if you are not consistent in following your goals. The consistent and endless pursuit of a goal is what results in the majority of the learning. Talk to any life long martial artist. We must improve every day. Failure to improve upon yourself leads to perished skills, and allows the mind and body to grow soft.

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