The Power of the Disrupted Healthy Habit

What is it about habits that they can make you feel so good while you are routinely doing them and so bad when you fail to do them?  They are magical, little, repetitive routines that can build strength both physically and mentally, and yet if anything disrupts them we feel ashamed, at a loss, incomplete, almost helpless.  I know this because I ebb and flow with my healthy habits. 

One of my favorite books, “Atomic Habits,” really knocked it out of the park with how to create good habits and dismantle bad habits.  I have implemented many of the techniques that the author, James Clear[i], espouses for habit formation.  For example, “stacking,” is a technique where you pick a daily habit that is so ingrained already that you can add a new habit on to it.  So you take a habit that you want to form like doing sit-ups and push-ups everyday with an ingrained habit like making your bed.  Or at least that’s what I have tried to do. 

It feels so great on the days when I wake up, make my bed, and then complete my exercise routine of a yoga sun salutation, 100 bicycle sit-ups and then 30 modified push-ups.  I love the feeling!  Right after, I am energized and fully awake (minus coffee) and ready for the day.  I also love the feeling of when I am on a streak of completing this healthy habit every day for many days in a row.  I feel a sense of calm and control.  It’s also great! 

So what happens to throw things off course?  What is the curve ball that can so disrupt healthy habits?  I have pondered this question over the past couple of years.  Every time I am in the groove with any healthy habits, (specifically the morning exercise routine is my barometer), there can be an event that causes me to stop.  And the stop is a halt, not a petering out.  Usually, it’s a streak of many weeks then nothing for weeks.  I can’t understand how a healthy habit can go on for so long and then completely stop.  And not only does it stop itself, but I find I am paralyzed by the stop.  I think to myself ugh! I don’t want to start that again, or why can’t I just go back to being in the groove, at a streak of 25 days or more?  All of that kind of thinking keeps me deterred from starting again at zero.  Zero days on the habit streak and the negative thinking that goes along with each passing day of not starting fresh.  That is the power of the disrupted healthy habit.

It is this power that holds me back.  I feel like I succumb to its’ oppressive pressure and just keep going through the motions of the morning without the power to fight back and take control.  That negative energy created by the disruption is powerful.  It holds me back from even taking a step in the right direction.  Because face it, I could do fewer sit-ups and push-ups at a different time of day and just take what I can get right?  Noooooo.  That defeats my predetermined purpose of creating this healthy “morning” habit and not doing my set number would also not live up to my predetermined standards. 

Does this sound familiar?  Maybe not.  Maybe I am the only person struggling with this, but I hope not!  I want to better understand this ying and yang, this juxtaposition of goodness and badness, this paradox of creating and maintaining life habits successfully!  How can something that we are doing to be better, healthier people result in such negativity and low self-esteem when we simply stop doing them? 

I wanted to better understand this and more so I looked to Admiral William McRaven[ii], author of “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World.”

As a U.S. Navy Seal, Admiral McRaven was put through basic training and grueling endurance testing. A highlight he makes in leading a successful life is making your bed every morning.  His training taught him to not only wake and make his bed every day, but to make it in such an exacting manner that a quarter could be flipped up in the air and bounce on the bed.  According to Admiral McRaven, “Making my bed correctly was not going to be an opportunity for praise.  It was expected of me.  It was my first task of the day, and doing it right was important.  It demonstrated my discipline.  It showed my attention to detail, and at the end of the day it would be a reminder that I had done something well, something to be proud of, no matter how small the task.” 

Wow!  What an amazing perspective and beneficial healthy habit.  That constant habit is so beneficial it would seem to be the key to “stacking” other healthy habits and eliminating the power of the disrupted healthy habits.  For me, the healthy habit that is disrupted so often is my morning exercise routine.  If I tied it more closely with making my bed, then maybe the “stacking” would take better hold and I would not succumb to the disruption power…maybe! 

I think a change that I can make  – and try this if there’s a healthy habit you may be working on – is to force myself to reverse the “stacking” routine.  Instead of making the bed first, then doing the morning exercises, I will do the opposite.  I definitely feel that making my bed falls into the essentials category of habits, e.g. brushing my teeth, washing my face, etc.  So I will use that to my advantage.  I will make the exercise routine a hurdle to jump over before getting to the making of my bed. It’s worth a try! Hopefully jumping out of bed to a yoga sun salutation, sit-ups, and push-ups, will become so natural that following that up with making my bed will become a new flow. One that won’t be disrupted, but instead provide growing power and sense of accomplishment.

James Clear and Admiral McRaven both have the right idea.  Focus on healthy habits to create a better, more powerful outlook and attitude.  I think shifting the focus off of the power of the disrupted habit and back to building a basic foundation of healthy habits day-by-day will lead to a change in perspective personally and hopefully in the world.  A positive attitude filled with gratitude for daily habits and other gifts is how we will all make this world a little kinder, a little better, and filled with a whole lot more love rather than the negativity of disruption. 

© 2020 Megan Davia Mikhail


[i] See also www.jamesclear.com

[ii] See “Want to Change the World? Start By Making Your Bed” by Admiral William McRaven, excerpt available at Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper: www.mariashriver.com

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