The tricky thing about habits — both positive and negative — is that it often takes us far too long to register the long-term effect of very small routines.
We think we have the capacity to get away with or control something because in the near-term we don’t see the negative consequences. They have not yet had the chance to compound.
We see it as something that we remain in control of. We’re doing so little of something that is not inherently bad. In such a small quantity, it’s not a habit, it’s just a one-off occurrence.
Or, in the case of a positive habit, we don’t give small routines enough credit. We stop too soon and just short of what we’d consider notable progress that would then motivate us to continue with an even stronger drive.
As such, we can either become complacent, in the case of bad habits, or prematurely discouraged, in the case of good habits.
Some examples of what I’m getting at:
Developing an addiction to:
- Wasting time on the internet
- Binge watching television
- Spending money unnecessarily
What started off as just a little here, a little there, of something that when controlled isn’t necessarily bad, can quickly turn into a bad habit without us recognizing it in time to control it.
I’ll just watch one more show. I don’t do this every day.
I’ll just keep scrolling through memes and videos for 10 more minutes.
I’ll just buy this one last thing. Then I won’t buy anything else I don’t need.
Eating foods that are bad for you, but not gaining a ton of weight immediately in the first week or two. It’s just one or two pounds, that’s not too bad. Then one day you find that the weight has slowly but surely piled on. And you’ve trained yourself to give into foods that aren’t good for you
Keeping a Journal:
After a week or so of forcing yourself to keep a journal, whether it be listing what you’re grateful for, writing goals, or tracking emotions, you may still find it ‘pointless’ or a waste of time. You may quit before you reach a breakthrough and realize the power of writing in a journal.
You compare yourself to fitness models and get discouraged when after a week or two of intense training you don’t look the way you imagined you would. You don’t place enough weight on the fact that maybe there is more I could learn in how I’m approaching this. You don’t stop to focus on how hard you’ve worked. You become impatient and fall into your old ways.
Eating well for one week, and then getting discouraged when we don’t see immediate progress. When in reality, you may not start to see the effects of your healthy habits until a few weeks later. You never see the progress that would have fueled your desire to continue because you underestimated the impact of the small tweaks you made to your diet.
The point is, never underestimate the power of small actions or routines, whether positive or negative. After all, we are what we repeatedly do. No matter how small the action, the repetition is what creates the habit.