23 Apr 2024
by Frank Zaccari

Secrets for getting Unstuck #4: Stuck in a Habit

We all have habits or rituals we follow daily. What are yours?

Habits are patterns or rituals we have developed through repetition over time. Some serve us well; others are or may become destructive. If you say I can stop (a poor habit) anytime you are kidding yourself.

Habits make us comfortable. This habit is what I do, this is how I do it, and this is when.  Everyone I know has a routine or ritual, and they experience some degree of distress when altered. Let’s look at your morning ritual. Odds are you do the same thing in the same order every day. It is almost as if you are on autopilot. You are comfortable, and the process is relatively stress-free.

Reacting when our pattern changes

Now, let’s say you are staying at a hotel. It alters your ritual.  Your clothes, coffee, toiletries are not in the same place. Now you are out of autopilot. You have to think about things you usually take for granted, such as, “Did I pack toothpaste or the same shoes? How does this damn coffee maker work?”

You must get dressed and go somewhere before you get something to eat or deal with morning room service. You must walk into a parking lot and try to remember where you parked your car or, worse, a rental car, check your phone or GPS for directions to where you are going, and drive on an unfamiliar route. These changes can be somewhat annoying, but not life altering.

Many habits and rituals have great value. They keep us focused. We know what to expect. We develop a routine. Some practices that start optimistically can slowly become a problem.

It started our good:

About 1979, after leaving the military and finishing college, I started working in high-tech sales and marketing. Since I was competing for multi-million-dollar contracts, there were many business lunches, dinners, and road trips. During that time, the three-martini lunch was still in vogue, and the after-work drinks with colleagues.
A pattern was starting to develop. I would arrive early for lunch to ensure the reservations were in order and the waiter/waitress I required was ready. I would have a drink before the others arrived. The drink of choice was Crown Royal on the rocks, with lots of ice. I would have another Crown Royal with potential customers and business partners during lunch. After lunch, there was another drink with my team to debrief. Then we went back to work. After work, being single at that time, we were back at the restaurant for a drink or two before going home or out to an event (a show, a date, a game, etc.). We would stay and talk with the bartenders, the “regulars,” and flirt with the waitresses if there were no plans. Yes, I know, not the wisest habit.

There were lunches or dinners about three times a week. When on the road, the ritual was to meet after work for dinner and a few drinks since we were only walking to our hotel room. This pattern went on for about four years. One year for Christmas, I received seven bottles of Crown Royal. It should have been a message.
At that time, the danger of recreational drugs was not widely known, so there was some dabbling in that area. After three years, I realized something had to change. The activities of my associates and I revolved around meeting for drinks and occasionally recreational drugs. There had to be something better, and I needed to get out of this environment. I took a job about two hours away. I didn’t know anyone, so this would be an ideal opportunity to change my habits.

After the first day of work at the new job, I stopped at the Peppermill Restaurant across the street from my apartment to get something to eat. The Peppermill back then had a fire pit in the bar area, and you could eat at the bar. I found myself sitting at the bar with a Crown Royal, talking with the bartender, the regulars, and flirting with the waitresses. As I walked back to my apartment, I had this conversation with myself; “What are you doing? You are starting the same pattern you wanted to leave. Get your shit together and create a new habit.” I had to change this pattern, but first, my beliefs had to change.

In his book Game Changers, David Asprey wrote:

Swapping your limiting beliefs is critical. Replace doubt and fear with optimistic expectations, which are a significant predictor of achievement.  Optimistic expectations will lead to upgrading your habits. We are what we believe we are, and we feed the habits we believe.

Action is needed to change a habit

I saw an ad in the paper for a racquetball club close to the apartment and discovered several of my co-workers belonged. They invited me to play doubles. That is four people on one court at the same running back and forth. I had never played and given how many times we collided or hit each other with the racquet, they were far from good.

After the game, I walked down the hallway to a court and saw an aerobics class filled with women. It looked interesting, so I asked the instructor if this was a women’s only activity. I loved her answer; “No, but no guy has the guts to try. So do you have the guts to try?” I said I was always up for a challenge. 

The next day I was the only male in the class. I tried to find a place in the middle near a wall to limit my exposure if I made a fool of myself. When the instructor walked in, she announced, “Well ladies, we have a man in the class.” As if they couldn’t see that fact for themselves. Then she said, “Thank you for coming, but you don’t get to hide by the wall. I want you up front and center. We could all use some eye candy, right ladies?” So, I moved to the front, and the class started.

Back then, it was high-impact aerobics with some dance moves combined with arms, legs, and core exercises to music. I made it through the class and did the cool down with everyone on the floor. Everything hurt as I followed the instructor’s cool-down stretching routine. When I say everything hurt, I mean everything. Even my eyelashes hurt. As I lay on the floor, I thought, “I made it, and I am never coming back.”

The instructor walked up to me, put her foot on my chest, glared into my eyes, and said, “Are you man enough to come back?” I would have pushed her foot off my chest if the muscles in my arms weren’t shaking. I glared back at her and said, “You will never win.” She said, “We’ll see. The next class is the day after tomorrow.”
Climbing the three flights of stairs to my apartment was torture. The following two days at work, I moved like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, but I went back and kept returning. Slowly I stopped being the class clutz. The minor alcohol headache I always had hanging out at bars had gone away.

I gave away the seven bottles of Crown Royal and, to this day, very rarely drink. For over thirty years, early morning core exercises and cardio have become a way of life. We can change our habits, thoughts and patterns. It is a matter of "want too."

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