Archive for the ‘Habits’ Category

Follow that feeling

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

You’re driving down the road, when an oncoming car swerves into your lane. Before you know what has happened, you’ve braked, steered away from the car and are probably already past it. You definitely didn’t take the time to consciously analyze the situation and make a calm decision about what to do. Instead, instinct took over, and your body almost automatically made the right moves to keep you out of harms way.

Obviously in this situation there is no choice, you can either let your intuition take over or you can crash, but what happens if you let the same force guide you in the major life decisions you face. Looking back on those decisions now, quite often you probably knew the right decision in your gut long before you decided for sure.

I’ve had several experiences so far where a major life decision was decided by that gut feeling, and every time it has turned out for the best.

The first was my college choice. I’d been accepted at several universities, and was visiting them all to make my decision. When I finally got to Northwestern (the last of them that I visited) I walked onto the campus and knew instantly that it was the right place for me to be. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t the school with the strongest program in the area I wanted to study, it just felt right. Later, in explaining my decision to my parents I told them, “There was the right proportion of flannel shirts.” Whether I had a strange obsession with flannel shirts in high school or not, it was my way of stating that I felt the balance there was right.

Fast forward four years, and I wanted to go to grad school. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, and I thought it would give me more clarity as to where to direct myself in the future. However, because of that, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, until one night when I was thinking and decided, “I want to go to school in Australia.” Several months later, I had applied, gotten in, and was on my way to Sydney, all because of a sudden thought one evening. The life experience was invaluable, and even though I may have gone to grad school for the wrong reason, I believe that I learned a great deal about myself through the process, and I think that was more important than the coursework itself.

Finally, I was back in the states and was interviewing for positions at several different firms. I ended up with two offers from two wildly different places. One was a large corporation with tens of thousands of employees, a well established training program and a well recognized name, while the other was a small, British firm with a comparatively minor US presence. The advice I often received was to go with the big name, and have a great start to my career with that name on my resume. However, after my final interview with the British firm I knew that it was the right place for me, and I took that position. So far it has been an amazing experience, and I feel that I’ve had opportunities to grow, learn about many different aspects of the business and help my team transform itself. While the other opportunity might have given me a similar experience, I don’t know if the camaraderie at my current place could ever be matched anywhere else. Plus, who has more fun on a night out than the Brits?

So, to sum it up – follow your gut and trust your instinct. It will often take you to places you never thought you’d find, and even if things don’t work out you’ve always got a good story out of it.

Breaking up is hard to do… especially with a bad habit.

Friday, June 1st, 2007

There are lots people talking about how to change the major aspects of your life, but I haven’t seen a significant focus on the little things in life. Those little habits that bother you, but have not yet convinced you to take the stand to stop them.

While everyone has their own way of dealing with these things, and I hope the next few tips can help you break those unwanted habits.

1. Recognize the habit, and make the conscious decision to stop it. While this may sound like a no brainer, think back to the last time you considered getting rid of this habit. Did you stop what you were doing, and say to yourself ‘I will stop this habit’ or was it just an idle thought that passed through your head. This initial resolve is very important, and without it, many people fail before they even truly begin.

2. Come up with a plan. For some people the best way to rid themselves of a habit is to go cold turkey, and stop right then and there. For others they need to taper down slowly and ween themselves off. Both ways can work, and I’ve used both myself at different times, for different habits. The important part is to decide what method is best for you, and then to draw up a plan to follow it. This can be as simple as circling the date on the calendar when you are going to stop, or as elaborate as drawing up a schedule of milestones.

3. Start the withdrawal process. Once you start taking action, as planned above, you are going to eventually feel some form of withdrawal. It’s normal, and nothing to be worried about. Whether you are looking to kick a serious drug habit or just to stop biting your nails, you will get the urge to go back to your old ways. The important part here is starting your plan and making it to that first milestone, the craving.

4. When the craving hits, relax. Congratulations, you’ve started the process and made it to the point where a part of you wants to give up and go back to the habit. Of course, this is the hardest part, but at this point the most important thing you can do is give yourself time. Take a deep breath and find a way to distract yourself for the seconds, minutes or even hours that it takes to get past that craving. It will pass eventually, but getting there can be rough sometimes. Stand strong! Once you get past it, be proud of yourself. It’s not easy to resist a craving, especially right in the beginning of the process.

5. Reward yourself. If you’ve made it this far, find a way to reward yourself, but don’t use anything that would lead you to slip back into your old ways as a reward. Something token that is special to you can often be a good motivator, and keep you going on the path to breaking the habit. If you have milestones set in your plan, then use those as an opportunity for a more significant award. If not, use anniversaries – weekly, monthly, etc. – as long as it helps to keep you on task.

6. Keep going. You know at this point that you can get past the hold of the habit, because you’ve done it before. Now just keep on progressing and see where it takes you. For some habits, and some people, a month may be enough to feel like you have control, but for others it can take years, or a lifetime of fighting against the urges. Research has shown that it takes about 30 days to make a new habit, and to incorporate it into your daily routine. If only breaking them was that easy.