The Person You Will Be in 5 Years, Part 4: The Habits You Adopt

When you hear the word habit, what pops into your mind? Is it something physical like smoking or, more positively, exercise? Or is it something less tangible like procrastination? In a recent U.S. News and World Report Survey, over 72% stated that they experienced “sub-par” sleep primarily due to poor sleep habits and 19% said that they had to resort to illicit drugs as a sleep aid. In another study, 64% of Americans admitted to having road rage, and 27% admitted to not stopping at stop signs. Yet another study stated that 62% of those surveyed wanted to be more healthy, yet were not able to due to their eating “habits.” Of all the studies (at least in the top 3 pages of Google), only one had to do with mental or emotional habits and none referenced any spiritual practices/habits. Not one mentioned the habit of vulnerability, thankfulness, or humility – all of which are absolutely necessary to be a decent human being. So, who you will be in 5 years depends on the habits you nurture now and let’s revisit the post this whole series is based on:

But what about the “rest of us”?

We are very focused on the physical person in our society. There are so many issues that revolve around “how we see our physical self” right now and, without getting into it too much, the dysfunctional relationship between our physical self and our mental/emotional and even spiritual self is responsible for the majority of societal issues. Until we accept, understand, and wholly embrace this truth – that we are all these “persons” – we will be limited in our growth and our ability to change. But why?

The Venn

The list of which could be called “books that opened my eyes” contains Start with Why by Simon Sinek. For anyone wanting to understand the importance of moving away from a reaction-based life and moving toward a vision-based life, this is one of those books that is a must-read. In this book, Sinek talks about how the different parts of us correspond with different inputs/stimuli/and responses. He speaks of how our body reacts, our mind learns, and our emotions ponder (or something like that!). But one thing he leaves out is how our spirit person longs. Below is an updated idea based on Sinek’s thoughts but including the spiritual:

Each of the above requires positive habits to be fulfilled; each of these parts of us must be nurtured through activities and beliefs that shape habits.

Physical Self – this is what we know of when most people think of habits. They include eating, sleeping, and other base-level habits because your physical self reacts to external stimuli. “I’m not getting enough sleep” so habits are formed one way or another to either reinforce bad sleep or correct sleep patterns. These habits are very “how” based and tactical. Generally, these habits form quickly – within 6 weeks or so, although newer habits can quickly replace older habits, meaning bad habits can quickly overcome and overtake if not nurtured.

Mental Self – slightly aligned to the physical self, we tend to also respond with mental habits to external stimuli, although filtered through cognitive reasoning. For example, if I get speeding ticket after speeding ticket, I “relate” this pain or outcome to some action and will thus form a pattern of either risk or adaption, meaning I will start to form a habit of speeding to “get away with it” or slow down and drive more reasonably. The problem is that we oftentimes think we are smarter than we are and our habits are ill-formed. I may form procrastination habits because “I can pull an all-nighter and be a hero.” The mental self is related to our “what” or the things that make us who we are. These habits are formed more slowly and are reinforced by reasoning meaning they form more slowly. For good or bad, they are also displaced more slowly.

Emotional Self – this is where we get a bit more unscientific, per se. This is the part of you that not only feels but also responds to others in an empathetic way. This is where we start to separate ourselves from other beings on this planet. Where the mental or intellectual self responds through reasoning, the emotional self can, in some ways, be counterintuitive. This is where we add context and subtly but can also start to get out of whack. How? Because we internalize most of our emotions to create context. We start to build habits not based on feedback but on our internal filters. This is where abusers and the abused form patterns and create habits. When looked at through an intellectual or logical lens, these emotional patterns can seem downright silly. Your emotional self responds to why and because of that aligns with your vision. If your vision is about how bad things happen to you, then your emotional self will form habits around this, but if there is a vision of success (whatever that is), you will tend to form patterns to align. Notice I said, “tend.” There are caveats. Because there is an unknown habit development window and the reinforcement of emotional habits is built around why and vision, unlearning bad habits is tough, and sometimes good habits are not formed.

Spiritual Self – and this is where I am going to say some things that are controversial because this is your real self. You are a spirit that has a mind and emotions that are contained in a physical body. You were created to be a spiritual person. You were built to seek out something or Someone great than you. That is why we have laws and scientific theory and music and religion. All of these are attempts to connect with something greater than ourselves. Spiritual habits don’t form, because your spirit is constantly on a journey of discovery. You are always searching and finding. I have friends (and I am one) that read the Christian Bible. They call this daily habit a spiritual habit, but it really is mental and/or emotional. There is no spiritual habit of reading because you don’t read the Bible for God. You read to know God. Your spiritual self always contextualizes decisions with the question “For whom?” I know many people that answer that with “myself” and unfortunately this isn’t enough. Again, I’m not here to preach, I’m simply stating an actuality.

Where to Start

Our habits will define us because we let them and we form them but we are also capable of understanding and changing them. The challenge is starting. Some of the most difficult yet important moments in my life began with thought decisions and changes. Many began with me not knowing what would happen or where the change would lead, I just knew that I needed a new set of habits – whether they were reactionary, response-driven, internally filtered, or about my journey. I would encourage you that if you need a change to take a few minutes and “retrospect” and see what part needs to “have focus” and if you don’t have a vision and don’t know for whom you want to accomplish your vision, then start there.

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