Harnessing your Habits

Today’s blog post is brought to you courtesy of an unhealthy dose of sleep deprivation and generally having my life abducted by a little alien……


Meet Kniola. She is a 12 week old Xoloitzcuintli, aka Mexican Hairless, dog. She is very very smart. She also likes food – a lot. She will therefore, with some patience on the part of her humans (I being one), perform quite extraordinary feats. See her sit! See her lie-down! See her wait on the landing to have her coat taken off! (She is hairless – she needs clothes. Lots of clothes. Will someone please inform the weather that it is spring and kindly to quit with the fucking snow…..)


I dutifully attend the puppy training classes. I learn that I have approximately 1.5 seconds to reward her behaviour before she forgets why it is she has been awarded a particularly delicious piece of dehydrated turkey. I learn the commands and the hand signals and the fact that the trainer’s pepperoni trumps the aforementioned turkey treat.


And watching her, I can’t help but wonder – could I be trained like that? I mean, I like food – a lot. Could I use food as a training tool on myself?


I’m not particularly disciplined. I’m sure if Kniola were responsible for supplying me with my food rather than vice versa, I would not on a fairly regular basis partake of Earnest’s Serious Chocolate ice cream. I would be slim and fit, perhaps even athletic. Instead, she has the occasional piece of pepperoni and I have the rather regular pizza.


We are creatures of habit – it’s a cliché that derives its truth from the fact that our environment is saturated with information that our unconscious minds are processing constantly. This draw on our brain’s processing power requires that we make efficiency savings – and habits are just that. The more of our behaviour we can automate, the more of our brain power is freed up for other, higher level functions such as learning and decision-making.


The unexamined habit may not be worth the brain power it saves. Are your habits serving you or are you serving them? Are they, in fact, making your life easier, or do they just make your life feel easier (because sometimes Netflix and beer can co that…..)


Figuring out how to manage our negative habitual behaviour is crucial to the quest for deep change and lasting transformation. Very often it is the bad habits – indulging in computer games, Facebook and the aforementioned utterly divine chocolate ice-cream – that prevent us reaching our goals, whether they be completing a project or attaining a certain dress size.


Could our bad habits, properly managed, motivate us by being rewards? Sure, you would need a little will power and self-discipline at the outset, enough to decide, say, that ice cream and pizza will henceforth only be allowable as a reward. Would 5 minutes on Facebook be okay if I have just worked solidly for an hour? If I eat healthily all week, could I allow myself a treat on weekends?


My unscientific answer? Yes. Here’s my truth – I’m not going to give up pizza and ice cream for life, not for my health and not to look even better than I already do (!) Neither am I going to forego Facebook or Freecell. It’s all about balance. It’s about using those things you enjoy, in moderation, to move you toward the other, more noble, things you want in your life – achievement of your dreams, creative expression, self-actualisation or whatever you name your higher calling. At some point, their pursuit will be reward enough.


In the meantime, appeal to your inner puppy dog.

3 Comments on “Harnessing your Habits

  1. I wonder if we also may default to those things that aren’t good for us (FB, TV, web surfing) not out of lack of discipline but out of fear of actually attaining what we may perhaps think we don’t actually deserve.
    And sometimes it would be easier if someone else held the key to the deep freeze that housed the ice cream cake. That self discipline when no one is looking is tough. ‘Who’ll know?” Yet we would be robbed of that incredible sense of achievement when we finally accomplish one of our dreams. We know we were true to ourselves and got to where we wanted to be. Truly something worth celebrating.
    My final point there is also something so rewarding about that ‘pepperoni treat’ in the form of verbal accolades from someone outside ourselves when we reach one of our goals. Kudos form outside that validate and recognize our accomplishment.
    Dehydrated turkey…not so much 🙂

  2. I enjoyed reading your article. This is a very interesting and light hearted view of our habits and whether they serve us well or not. This approached has caused me to think about my habits. Thank you for writing and posting.

  3. Great post Gillian! Definitely food for thought. Our negative habitual behaviours, although pleasurable to begin with, can end up being a pretty boring, mundane life! I agree that balance is the key. Striving to achieve those things that light my passion, Netflix on the occasion for a good mental break and chocolate ice cream to reward myself for a nicely completed project – with a cherry on top.

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