Do you choose to eat the same breakfast every morning? Or do you feel compelled to eat the same breakfast because it's what you've done every day for the past 15 years?
Humans are habitual creatures. Research suggests that about 40% of what we do every day is habit. This means that for better or worse, we repeat behaviors - often unconsciously. But is this such a bad thing?
In her book, Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin discusses the prevalence of habits and how we can either become the master of our habits or a servant to our habits.
What's the difference? And does it matter? Which of these means that we will ultimately have healthier habits?
Keep reading to find out.
Master of My Habits
What does it mean to be the master of your habits?
- You are in control of habit formation
- You have purposefully decided to engage in a habit
- You perform the habit without much (or any) willpower needed
- You believe there is something useful about that habit
- You decide if there are exceptions to the habit behavior
Now think about your own habits. Do they fit this description? It's okay if you answer "no" or "sometimes". For me, I think that I am a master of some habits and not others. It's much easier to be a master of the habits you enjoy versus the ones you dislike.
Habits that you do every day aren't necessarily "mastered habits". Mastery in this case doesn't mean that you've done the habit a certain number of times - it's about control. Do you have control over the habit and free will to engage in it or not?
If you are a master of a habit it's not necessarily second nature but it doesn't require you to hype yourself up every time you plan to do it. You have a level of comfort with the habit but it doesn't happen without you choosing to do it.
You can be the master of a good habit or a bad habit (although it's more common for good habits). Being a servant to your habits though is more common with bad habits than good ones.
Servant to Your Habits
What does it mean to be a servant to your habits?
- You perform the habit without realizing it happened
- You feel helpless to change the habit
- You have to use significant willpower to change the habit and are often unsuccessful
- You feel a sense of unease when you don't perform the habit
Think about some of the bad habits that you've tried to change in the past. Did you feel that they had power over you versus the other way around? If so, you were likely a servant to that habit.
Being a servant to a habit doesn't necessarily mean you are addicted to it (like cigarettes) but it can have an addictive quality - even for good habits.
Many people that exercise heavily every day talk about their exercise habit as though someone else is making them do it. They say that they "have to" hit the gym for 2 hours or else they don't feel like themselves.
Being a servant to an exercise habit is actually fairly common. But because it's seen as a desirable habit, no one bothers to think about changing it. If they did, they might struggle the same way others struggle to even start an exercise routine.
The point is that being a servant to your habits isn't always a bad thing - but it makes it very hard to change habits when you want to.
Developing the Perfect Balance with Your Habits
So which of these two relationships sounds more appealing to you? Do you want to be a master of all your habits - good and bad? Or would you prefer to be a servant to your good habits and master the bad habits to control them better?
There is no right or wrong when it comes to habit - there's just variability. Each person and his or her habits are unique. The key to starting, stopping, or continuing a habit depends on you - your goals, your personality, and your values.
Some people make more progress with habits using a slow and steady formula while others thrive pedal using a pedal to the metal strategy. Some people succeed when they change a bunch of habits at once and others when they change one small habit at a time.
The best thing you can do is find out what type of person you are. Under what conditions are you the most likely to be successful? It may take time to figure this out but you can use some of your current habits as a jumping-off point.
Ask yourself why your current habits work or don't work for you and consider how this insight might inform the growth of new habits or the breaking of old ones.
Need Help With Habits?
If you consistently struggle with habits you may need a little extra guidance - and that's okay! As a health coach this is what I am trained to do - to help others build healthier habits and ultimately a healthier lifestyle.
If you're interested in how a health coach could help you, book a free 30-minute session with me!