Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Happiness out of Habit

I have been at my current job for a year and a half now. 
 During this time I've had the exact same work schedule. This is the longest period of time I have ever had a consistent work schedule. Before the start of my current job I worked multiple jobs, all hours of the day, or at one job with varying shifts.
What does this have to do with anything?

Having a consistent work schedule has allowed me to uncover all my habits and the emotions that go along with them. When I was working from 10am-7pm one day, then 5pm-2am the next, it was impossible to see the patterns of my emotional eating.

It was a normal payday Thursday, with nothing particularly special about it. The weather was mild, I had a few hours before I had to be at work, and there was nothing too crazy on my impending schedule. I found myself at the grocery store, buying a shit ton of groceries, and spending a shit ton of money. Then I found myself at the mall, wanting to buy clothes. Out of nowhere a light bulb illuminated my entire conscience. I realized that EVERY payday I find myself doing the same thing: buying food, going out to eat before work, and buying clothes or some other "thing" that I don't need. It got me wondering: what other habits do I have? And why do act in these patterns?

A motivational speaker once gave me the idea to use "Red Flags" as a means to pinpoint behaviors attached to emotions. Every time I slip, binge, or do anything out of impulse, I will mark a red flag so that I can associate emotions with their corresponding habits. They're right there on the side of my fridge, so I can't miss them. 

That's right- one of them says "ice cream for breakfast."  
I actually ate ice cream for breakfast. 

Habits are incredible things. And they are hard to break. With this consistent work schedule I am amazed at what all I have been able to uncover. They don't just appear out of nowhere!

•When I get stressed about money I spend more money!
•When I am feeling any sort of negative emotion, I eat. 
•When I get stressed at work, I reach into the candy drawer and eat. 
•When I am feeling down I skip my workouts. 
•When I am in a full-on emotional eating, not exercising, funky kind of mood, I let my house get dirty and neglect my chores. 

This made me delve deeper. 

When I am "on it," and in charge of my emotions, what habits follow suit?

•I'm saving money. 
•My house is tidy.
•I'm consistently taking Ziggy for long walks (well, you know they're not TOO long lol).
• I am at my CrossFit classes 3 times a week. 
•I'm running/walking on my dinner breaks. 
•I'm eating healthy and saying no to "bad" food. 

So what if I MAKE myself clean my house, take Ziggy for a long-ish walk, run on my dinner break? No matter how I feel? Will my emotions attach themselves to my actions the same way they do in reverse? 

I have told myself NO! a lot recently because I have been able to identify the emotions with their pending actions. It's incredible that a little consistency in my life has led me to these realizations. 

We binge eat because we are terrified to face the emotions we are feeling. 
What will happen to me if I let myself get engulfed by my sadness? Or my loneliness? Or my anger? 
It's scary to think about. 
But those emotions are ME. They are inside of ME. I can control them. Just like I can control the bag of chips that is OUTSIDE of me. 

I told a good friend of mine that I am really going to cut back on drinking. He asked why and I told him it's because of food. Further explanation: I eat crap food when I drink. I can deal with the 100 calories per glass of wine, but I can't deal with the 5,000 calorie binge that follows. His response? Well, you can control that! No. I can't. That's the problem. When I have had too much to drink, I want to go to Taco Bell at 2am. Since I have established a problem with the drinking + crap food habit, the next step is to eliminate the catalyst.

I also looked back into my memory file of what I do every time I want to really pipe down and get serious about losing weight. It's crazy!!! I literally do the SAME thing each time. I buy something shiny and new to give me motivation (a new journal, a new water bottle, a new sports bra, etc...), I spend a bazillion dollars at the Farmers' Market, vowing to eat clean all week, no cheating. I write inspirational notes and litter my condo and workspace with them....

It's time the break the habits and form new ones that will get me to my goal. 

I am a little bit nostalgic sometimes and I tend to take more pictures than anyone I know (in case you haven't noticed). Luckily I have been this way my whole life. That's ONE habit that definitely hasn't changed! I flipped through some old scrapbooks the other day to try and remember what my old habits were when I was truly healthy and happy. 

When was the last time I was truly healthy and happy? I'm not really sure, but I'm thinking it had to have been back when I was in high school! This is nothing too unusual, a lot of people were at their best shape at 18, and most people were pretty happy at that time in their lives. So what changed? What habits did I let go of over the years on my journey to unhappiness? And what did I replace them with?

 I played tennis for about 2 hours with a guy I work with a few weeks ago. It was HOT. And I was sweating more than I have in a long time. I was exhausted. I loved it. I remember feeling HAPPY. Truly happy. Tennis makes me happy. Why did I stop playing regularly? 

I went to dance class with some friends a few weeks ago. HAPPY. I had a blast! Genuine H-A-P-P-Y.
 I was a cheerleader growing up, and also in college. Why I did stop dancing?

The outdoors.
 I have made it a point to be on the water a lot this summer as part of my exercise plan (also because I miss the beach so much- rivers and lakes are the next best thing). It has made me very happy. Why did I stop exploring?

Pizza. Apparently pizza has always been a nemesis of mine. I found this note written by my stepfather when I was 5. So what's the answer to the riddle? Do I eat pizza because I'm fat? Or am I fat because I eat pizza?

Cooking. I have ALWAYS loved to be in the kitchen. This hasn't changed. 

So now that I have identified some actions that appear to make me happy, as well as the ones that tag along with unhappiness, what's the next step? 

Make happiness a habit. 

When I find myself letting my house get messy, clean it. Play tennis. Go to a dance class. Form happy habits. Get rid of the unhappy ones. Continue to identify emotions attached to negative actions. 

Make new habits easy to form. 
For example: I have been trying to replace late night snacks with a cup of hot tea. Something I NEVER would have done in the past. In fact, I didn't even know I liked hot tea until recently. I can put them away if I have company, but just for my benefit, the boxes are out there in the open in plain sight.

When I want to binge eat, or do something that impulsive, I must ask myself this question: "Isn't there something better for me to do?" This is in front of my fridge right now, waiting for me when I get home.

Habits. They're like leeches. Make sure only the good ones are lingering around.


  1. You said you were saying "no to bad food." Last night on a radio show called "Maximize Your Health" the Dr host named the 5 super foods he recommended: 1) avocado 2) coconut oil 3) eggs (from free range chickens) 4) wild caught salmon and 5) free range, hormone free chickens. Happily, in our quest to change our lifestyle, my wife and I have already incorporated all of these items in our diet except for the chicken because we haven't found a reasonably priced source. "Food for thought."