Our Habits=Our Lives

January is a great time to reflect on the direction we choose for our lives in the coming year and beyond. My process for doing that begins with a deep look at how my daily actions are serving my values, purpose, personal and business missions and vision for my life.

While each of those facets could be the subject of at least one blog post, my goal here is to explore the ways that our habits shape, direct and even create our lives.

“If I consider my life honestly, I see that it is governed by a certain very small number of patterns of events which I take part in over and over again . . . When I see how very few of them there are, I begin to understand what huge effect these few patterns have on my life and my capacity to live. If these patterns are good for me, I can live well. If they are bad for me, I can’t.” —Christopher Alexander

Dictionary.com defines “habit” as:

“an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.”

Thoughtful consideration of that definition illuminates the importance of habits in our lives. When our patterns of behavior, of nourishing and moving our bodies, of speaking, of consuming information, of treating humans and nonhumans in the world and of an almost limitless assortment of other possible actions are leading us in the direction we want to go in our lives, the path ahead of us becomes easy to follow. It no longer requires effortful resolve. It is just what we do.

Conversely, it is easy to be led mindlessly away, little by little, from our desired destination, if our habits do not serve what we truly want to create in our lives.

As we begin to move through this new year, Chris Brogan provides us with a winning strategy:

“My great years are built on keeping a bigger mission in front of me, but looking at my daily actions as the molecules of that mission.”

He clearly recognizes the necessity of attending to the small daily habits to achieve the bigger goal.

I make more effective choices when I approach my daily routine mindfully and stop to consider whether a choice of action or an ingrained habit advances either my personal or business mission.

As a journalist for National Geographic, Dan Buettner set out to learn the secrets of the communities in which the world’s longest-lived people thrive. His journey led him to write The Blue Zones, so that he could share the longevity practices he had uncovered.

The book made an impression on me when I read it several years ago, and I was reminded of it late last year when I came across The True Vitality Test, which offered a snapshot of my likely life expectancy, contrasted with my healthy life expectancy and my possible life expectancy.

Although I consider myself very healthy, and I have recently earned my certification as a health coach, I was startled by the 10-year gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy.

I recognized that, to serve my purpose and values, I needed to adjust my personal mission. It quickly became:  To close the gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy. (My next blog post will elaborate on this concept, as well as on related programs that I will offer through my coaching practice.)

My personal mission to close the gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy serves as a gauge to assess the foods I eat daily, the way I eat those foods, my stress level, the amount and quality of my sleep and other habits that govern my life.

If I determine that my habits are not carrying me closer to my mission, I am in a powerful position to choose actions that will and practice them regularly so that they become habits.

My mission as a health and habit change coach is to teach the lifestyle practices (habits) that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world.

The small actions, or “molecules,” as Chris Brogan calls them, that shape our days ultimately shape our lives.

Keeping our mission in the front of our minds enhances our ability to make positive daily choices.

One way I do this is by meditating on my missions in my mindfulness practice every day. For me, this is just a matter of reciting my missions in my head (along with other important guiding recitations) while I am in a state of focused calm.

Empowered movement is an important component of both my self-care and my coaching practice. Empowered movement means exercising from a place of clear intention and using the time and space that movement can create to speak to myself in an empowering way. Along with a quote or mantra that I choose for a bike ride, walk, yoga practice, or other form of exercise, I also remind myself of my missions and the other guides that help me stay focused.

I anchor my missions for myself by posting them near my computer at work and in my “organization station” (a closet I have claimed as my own) at home. I see these and other reminders frequently, and, in the case of my computer at work, somewhere that I may encounter stressors that threaten to steer me off course. These anchors help me persevere on the path that I have chosen.

My daily choices are not perfect, but I am much more likely to choose actions and cultivate habits that serve my missions when I remind myself of them frequently. Essentially, these practices that I have in place are, themselves, molecules of my mission, just as they guide the other habits that stack up to create the big picture of my life.

Will Durant summarized some of Aristotle’s teachings by explaining that the philosopher believed,

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

It is rare that a single act defines our lives or determines whether we live the missions we have discerned for ourselves. However, what we do repeatedly certainly does have a significant effect on the masterpiece we are creating through our lives.

When we hold our mission in mind and choose our actions based on a commitment to serving that mission, those actions will become habits, and those habits will add up to excellence.

See future posts for my practices around clarifying and honoring my values, purpose, mission, motivations and vision. In the meantime, pay close attention to your habits because they determine your life.