In my last article we learned what habits are and how they work. Now, in this article, I’d like to explore how we can make the habit loop work in our favor. In other words, how do we go about creating strong and virtuous habits?
The answer, as it turns out, involves something called keystone habits. Keystone habits are formed when we make small changes to the way we live our lives – both physically and spiritually.
The first characteristic of keystone habits is that they enable small wins and typically lead to other, positive, results.
For example, research shows that people who log everything they eat – and I do mean everything – are far more likely to eat cleaner and, subsequently, lose more weight. So, in this example, writing down what you eat is the keystone habit.
And, the coolest thing is, when you eat better you’re far more likely to exercise on a consistent basis. In other words, what started by logging what you eat lead to working out.
Put the Video Tape In
One of my favorite examples of a keystone habit in action, at the athletic level, is the story of Michael Phelps and his famous “videotape.”
The story goes that Michael’s coach, Bob Bowmann, used to tell him to play the “videotape” every night before falling asleep. And then, when he woke up, he should play the tape again.
The thing is, there was no real, physical videotape. Instead, Bowmann had trained Phelps to visualize the perfect race in his mind.
He wanted Michael to feel his feet grip the platform, how it felt to push off, and the exhilaration he experienced the second his body cut through the 77-degree water for the first time. He then wanted Michael to visualize – and feel – every single stroke of the race.
As it turns out, Michael Phelps did this. In fact, I believe he still does it. And before every race, there is no pep talk from his coach. Instead, there are only 4 words said – put in the videotape.
And, as we all know, Michael Phelps won, and continues to win, many races as a result of his hard work and, it seems, this powerful keystone habit.
Excellence is a Habit
Finally, leveraged correctly, keystone habits cultivate an environment where excellence is contagious.
Put simply, when we begin to make positive changes to our lives we’ll most likely be encouraged to improve other aspects of our lives like the example of how logging what you eat often leads to working out.
But guess what? When people see that you mean business with these new, and improved, habits chances are very good your witness will rub off on them.
I have several work associates that have also begun to clean up their diets and exercise more. And my children, especially my oldest son, are really taking notice of my new behavior and attitude towards eating better and exercising. I even “caught him” doing push-ups recently since he had just seen me do my morning workout.
So, men, please know this. If you have children they’re watching your every move. And they’re developing habits that could stick with them for the rest of their lives. What habits do you want to pass on to your sons and daughters?
And while these “physical” habits can be excellent nothing is more important than our children learning from our strong spiritual habits such as having a consistent prayer life, frequenting the Sacraments, and loving our wives the way Christ loved the church.
Put another way, if you fail to consistently practice your faith there is little hope your children will.
How to Change Bad Habits?
OK, so far in this series, we’ve talked about what habits are and how to create new and virtuous ones.
And, while this is all well and good, what are we to do with those bad, undesirable, habits? Is there hope? The answer is yes… and that’s exactly what we’ll explore in my next article.
Until then… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!
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