Better Habits, Best Life


Words: Kayleen McCabe
Photos: BrianAJackson, serezniy

An interesting 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology by Dr. Phillippa Lally and her team, discusses how new behaviors and habits are formed. The long-standing thought that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, a concept popularized by Dr. Maltz 1960’s book Psycho-Cybernetics, was actually proven to be untrue. 

On average, the majority of the candidates that participated in the study took 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic and anywhere between 18 and 254 days for that behavior to become a habit. When the world came to an abrupt stillness in March, I knew that this opportunity could be used to implement some new behaviors regarding my diet and exercise that would hopefully become habits, and would stick when the world was going at full speed again.

For the last 15 or so years my career has been on a very aggressive schedule. Traveling year-round, bouncing between time zones, eating on the go, and the daily rigors of working in the construction industry were both invigorating and exhausting. When everything went still, my first concern was actually for my mental health. I was worried how someone who was on the go all the time was going to adjust to being home and sedentary. 

The first few weeks were hard. I was sad. I was grieving the loss of normalcy. There were some days that I got up, was tired and overwhelmed, so I napped and watched Forensic Files (hooray for endless seasons of Forensic Files and Law and Order). However, as time passed and things adjusted, I realized that this was an amazing opportunity on my hands. I was home. Home! Home for the first time in years. 

I could play in the shop! The honey-do-list that had been growing could be worked on! I could plant a vegetable garden! But, most importantly, a chance to be in a controlled environment where I could focus on healthy habits.

Making a list of a few goals seemed like the best place to begin. Drink more water, eat less sugar, do yoga, play golf. A short and simple list, but for me challenging to implement. I am not a fan of how water tastes, I am a big fan of how sugar tastes, I used to do yoga but fell out of the habit, and I’m new to golf. Now, here I was with plenty of time on my hands and the opportunity to put Dr. Lally’s study into effect to see if I could positively change my behaviors. 

The first thing I did was put the list onto my wall calendar and started tracking goals daily. This had a few wonderful effects. I could visually see what I had accomplished and it is nice to know what day it is (quarantine joke). Part of the study discussed that if you missed a day trying to form a new habit, it did not affect the overall outcome of the formation. This was important information because as a very competitive person, it is easy to feel like a failure if I skipped or cheated. It was nice to look on the calendar and realize that while I might have missed a day, I had been successful for so many prior to that. 

Containers and plastic bags with frozen vegetables in refrigerator

Now that I’m approaching 66 days, it’s really fun to see what has changed. First off, I am doing better with drinking water. It was going to be the hardest of my goals, but it’s been one of the most undemanding to implement. I’m not quite sure if it’s a habit yet, but I am confident I’ll continue to drink my 64oz in the future.  Sugar was initially the most challenging to remove from my diet because sugar is in everything! 

However, giving it up had some other positive consequences. Because of spending time at home, I’ve been able to make all meals and control the ingredients. It’s made me fall in love with cooking, recipe researching, and creating healthy delicious food. 

Also, my meal prep game has drastically improved, and in a few weeks the vegetable garden will be in full bloom providing some fantastic salad ingredients. While I know I won’t be able to enjoy a home cooked meal every time I’m on the road in the future, I trust I’ll make better decisions while traveling. 

Next goal was to do more yoga. On a personal note, yoga should be incorporated into all contractor’s lifestyles. Our bodies are our most used tool and replacement parts are really hard to find. Stretching helps to protect joints, muscles and also assists in creating a strong core. Having these things will make a contractor healthier and able to work for longer. With the labor shortage, we need all contractors to last as long as possible! ...okay, stepping off the soapbox now. 

When I had the goal of doing yoga every day it was definitely to keep myself healthy while being at home. What I found was an extra bonus of my mind is still for that amount of time. The stillness seems to provide focus for the rest of the day, almost like a mental cup of coffee. I can easily see this habit continuing in the future, and look forward to doing sun salutations in my hotel room. 

Lastly, golf. I don’t even know if I can count it as a habit, or an obsession. I just wanted to play a “few” times because the courses are open for walking and Colorado has some spectacular views. It turns out that I’ve gone crazy and I’m on par (pun intended) to play over 100 holes in April and May. In some awesome dream world, I would continue that pace for the rest of my life, but I know this is not able to last forever. Perhaps when the world is up and going again, I’ll still go for a nice long walk with a white ball in my pocket that I occasionally take out and yell at. 

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