Slave to the Habit

By Anna Mitchell

Change is an inevitable phenomenon that you cannot control. But you can often control the direction of the change by the decisions that you make. Life is about choices, but “habits” often rob us of these choices by becoming an involuntary response rather than a conscious decision.

That is not to say that all habits are bad, but when striving to achieve your peak performance level whether in the show pen, at home or at work, it is important to sort out the good from the bad habits to bring that control back into your life.

First of all, at what stage does an action become a habit? Habits are repetitive actions that become so ingrained that they virtually become an involuntary response. If you have read some of my other articles, you will be familiar with the concept of using practice and repetition to develop appropriate preparation practices (or habits), so we know that not all habits are bad. How do we work out which habits are helping us and which are hurting us?

Our pre-performance preparation routine represents our desirable habits. These habits help us to control our stress levels and keep us focused on important cues while blocking out irrelevant distractions. But what if we have adopted bad habits that are in fact hurting our performance rather than helping?

If you have ever tried to kick a bad habit such as smoking, you will know how difficult it can be to change a behavior that has become almost automatic.

It is important to remember that changing a conscious thought or behavior is much easier than changing an unconscious thought or behavior. Consequently, the first thing we need to do is develop our awareness of what is going on. One way to do this is to make a list of all the “habits” you think you may have. Be aware of your actions throughout the next few days and jot down those that seem to be repetitive. It can help to ask those around you if they notice any habits that you may have. Often it is easier for others to see behaviors of which we are unaware.

step 1 – make a list of all behaviors that you seem to repeat on a regular basis. 
step 2 – label each repetitive action (habit) as good, neutral, or bad. When assigning these labels take into account how often a particular habit is occurring. A habit that may seem harmless or “good,” such as washing your hands, may in fact become a problem if it occurs so often that it interferes with the rest of your life.

step 3 – identify how often these “habits” are occurring. Keep a mental tally throughout the day and write down the number of times that particular action occurred or keep your list handy and put a check next to that habit each time you become aware of it. This will give you an indication of how strong a particular habit maybe.

step 4 – once you have identified habits that may be potentially hurting your performance you can substitute more desirable behaviors, thoughts or feelings for the old. Removing or eliminating a habit without replacing it with an appropriate alternative will leave a void that will often be filled by some other unintentional behavior, thought or feeling. The original habit fulfilled a need of some sort and your job is to find a replacement that is not detrimental to your performance but will fulfill that need.

Let me use an example to explain. Suppose you tell yourself over and over again that you are not good enough or you are going to fail. You are essentially attempting to  protect yourself from the disappointment of failure but you are actually setting yourself up to do just that. You need to replace that repetitive thought with a more productive thought such as, “I have trained hard, I am ready for this”. If you don’t replace that negative thought, some other defensive thought may sneak right in and hold you back from doing the best you can. 

What habits do you have that you might like to change?

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