the gift of habit

I think I tend to label ‘habits’ as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, maybe mostly ‘bad’. How about you? 

I have been working on reshaping my perspective on habits by viewing them as things that serve me in some way.

When I was a full-time language instructor, before my classes started, I would step out of the buzzing staff room in the morning, walk several blocks, regardless of the weather, to a Starbucks and get myself a White Chocolate Mocha almost every single day. It was expensive, full of sugar and not the best environmental choice (because I usually forgot my cup). I knew this and I kept doing it because there was something that I loved about it (beyond the sugary coffee buzz). I suspect if I had identified the need this habit was meeting, I would have quit much sooner. 

Looking back, it’s easy to see the positive intent behind my habit. I am a tad introverted. Our staff room was extremely crowded, loud and often there was a pretty high “panic” feel to the room as people rushed to complete and photo copy lessons. Stepping out of this brought me a great deal of calm and the walk gave me the energy I needed to step into the classroom for the day. Plus there was the reward of the sugary, caffeinated beverage that I savored for several hours drawing, somewhat unconsciously, on that calm, yet energized feeling, that I got from going and getting it. Now I can see how I could have met these needs without the Starbucks. 

Identifying the Positive Intent Behind Habits


When you consider habits that you would like to change, it can be helpful to start with some version of these questions:  

  • What need is this habit meeting? 
  • How is this habit serving me? Not whether it is good or bad, but what am I getting out of it?
  • What is the positive intent behind this habit? 
  • What positive feelings do I derive from it? 

And (this one is important)…

  • How can I meet those needs in a different way? 
  • How can I meet those needs in a different way that would serve me better?

This one is tricky because sometimes it’s not always obvious to us in the moment. Why? It could be that we aren’t entirely clear on the things that are really important to us, our values. 

We often identify a habit as something we want to change because, even though it’s meeting some needs, there is something about it that just doesn’t feel right. We like it, but feel guilty about it, like my White Mocha habit. This can be a sign that it’s incongruent with something we really value. 

For example, when I identified simplicity  and a love for the earth  as 2 core values of mine that I wanted to live into more, drinking my Starbucks in a disposable cup was no longer an option. If I didn’t bring a reusable cup, I didn’t get a coffee. This was step one for me. 

Identifying Your Values

Values are things that are really important to you as person. Knowing and understanding your core values can make a big difference to how you view your habits and your reasons behind wanting to change them. “I feel guilty” generally won’t get you very far. 

Just identifying the positive intent and need behind your habits can indicate a value. For example, calm seems to be important to me. 

Here are few questions to get you started on discovering your values:

  • Who are you at your very best? 
  • What, beyond basic needs, must you have in your life to be fulfilled? What are your non-negotiables? 
  • What gives you the most joy, satisfaction and renewal in your life? What is important about these things?
  • Think of a time when you felt proud of yourself? What were the key elements involved? 

Here’s a giant list of values…

Going through a list like this and identifying the words that resonate with you can be useful in identifying the things that really make you tick. They are your heart “things”.

The next step is to ask (which each value you discover)…

  • What about this particular value is important to me?
  • How am I currently living out this value?
  • How can I live more into this values? 

So let’s bring it back around…

  • How do your habits line up with these values? 
  • How are your habits pushing up against these values? 
  • How can you align your habits with your values? 

*What is one small thing you can do today to align one habit with one value?* 

In my next post, I’ll dive a little deeper into how to create lasting change when it comes to habits.