Monthly Archives: September 2018

Breaking habits/Forming new habits

For quite a few months now I’ve had the words “The key to a better life really is as simple as sitting and thinking about things” written in big letters in marker pen on a piece of paper on the corkboard on my bedroom wall. This refers to the fact that probably since I was in my early 20s (I’m 37) I’ve occasionally spent time sitting somewhere quiet and just letting my mind wander. When I do this, it helps me with things like remembering the things I need to do that day, remembering friends that I’ve not seen for a while, and I often find that I’ll accidentally solve a problem I’ve been having in my life, or come up with a new idea for something. I guess some people would say this sounds like meditation, but I’ve never really thought of it as that because it was just something I started doing because I felt like before I knew anything about meditation. In recent years I’ve looked into mindfulness and tried it a tiny bit, and some element of that has coloured what I do now when I sit down for a mind wander. This process tends to result in me having a much clearer head and suddenly I become much more productive and sociable, and in the years since I’ve been suffering from depression, from just doing this once I probably end up getting more done in the following few days that I would otherwise do in a month.

About a year ago I finally admitted to myself (closely followed by my counsellor) that I’m addicted to the internet, especially facebook. Now I think about it I’ve probably spent an unhealthy amount of time looking at computer screens since I was a child, before we even had the internet at home (can you imagine? It makes me feel about 100 just saying that). I’ve always resisted getting a smartphone because I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea for me, so I guess some part of me has known that I had a problem with the internet for a long time, I just hadn’t properly faced up to it. Since admitting my problem I’ve discovered the concept of the Cycle of Change, which is most commonly used in relation to addiction but can be applied to anything where you want to change your own behaviour. My interpretation of the cycle is essentially:

Admit you’ve got a problem
Think about doing something about it
Do something about it
Maintain a change in behaviour

I’ve gone through this cycle quite a few times now where I’ll do quite well at limiting my use for a period then something will happen that will cause me to relapse. It could be being ill, being really tired from a physically demanding work day, or just running out of willpower. The next thing I know it’s weeks later and I realise I’ve slipped into my old habits and I have a moment where I say to myself “shit, what am I even doing? I really need to get off the internet”. Then I’m motivated by my lapse to take action again. The theory is that each time you go round the cycle you learn something that you can use to do better next time round, and you get quicker at realising you’ve lapsed and doing something about it.

The reason I’ve talked about both the seemingly unrelated “meditation” and the internet addiction is that I remembered something I’d read a while back in book called Willpower for Dummies (found in a charity shop, surprisingly good). It says that it’s much easier to actively decide to do something than it is to not do something that’s a habit. So instead of trying not to go on the internet, I decided I would commit myself to trying to do at least 30 minutes of “meditation” a day, knowing that when I do this I’m much less likely to spend significant time online that day. I heard somewhere (probably a TED talk) that it takes 8 weeks to form a new habit so my current goal is to try and meditate for at least 30 mins a day for 8 weeks and hope I can make it a long term habit.