I've written a lot about change. But one thing that has also really benefited me is identifying triggers and breaking unhealthy habits. Human beings are creatures of habit and we will keep doing the same thing over and over as we don't know where, or how to start making change. Some habits seem impossible to break because you don't know what causes them. And then sometimes the original cause can expire, but the habit persists. A good example of this is someone who works late and stays at the office because they have a bad relationship waiting for them at home and they want to avoid it. And then they finally end the relationship but still work late. It has become a habit, and the cause has expired but they keep doing it.
For me, I'd often find myself drifting very easily into unhealthy habits that kept me in a rut and I often didn't know what had triggered them. I'd do a lot of self-improvement to work through past issues, find the root and deal with it, yet the habits persisted. It was frustrating. I'd find myself sidetracked into them unconsciously. Then one day, I tried something in an attempt to crack it and separate the habit from every day, and find what was triggering me.
I started writing down every single action I made each day, and how it made me feel using the terms 'bad', 'worse', 'neutral', 'good' and 'better'. It looked something like this:
Woke up - neutral
Made breakfast - better
Got ready for work - neutral
Walked to tube station and travelled to work - worse
Got to work - bad
Pretty quickly, a pattern emerged. I saw what made me feel good, but more importantly, I could tie certain actions to feeling negative. Looking at this, it was clear that my bad mindset started during my commute to work. Now, I loved my job. So I knew that the trigger was not the fact I was going to work, it had to be something else. So I went deeper and analysed what I do on the way to work each day. It puzzled me for a while but then one day I realised what it was. It was the music I listened to on the way to work. I am one of those people who listen to a song over and over again, even after I have fallen out of love with it. I do this with books, and food, and films and TV shows. I consume things fast and rather than find new content for my brain I'll often repeat stuff I have watched/listened to/eaten before. I will sometimes listen to the same song 20 times in a row every day and watch TV series 7 or 8 times. But when I made the effort to write down feelings that were attached to my everyday actions, I noticed that my mood level was often impacted by what I was consuming. Because the brain makes powerful connections, and they stick around if unchecked. So if I had a negative association with a particular song and then listened to it over and over again...I was being dragged right back to that frame of mind. Remember what I said about expired causes? A certain song might have reminded me of a particular day or experience where I wasn't happy and hearing it again took me back to a time when that emotion was still active. And it then triggered the coping mechanism I had at the time. And I was listening to the same songs again, and again, and again. So no wonder that by the time I got to the office I was feeling itchy and low, and that would then have a domino effect on the rest of my day.
This particular trigger had a very easy solution. I got Spotify, so I then had an endless supply of different music and didn't have to only listen to what I had bought in my music library anymore. It suggests music to me and I make a conscious effort to change it up regularly. I do the same thing with food, and TV too. It's like a refresh, it blows out all the old, dusty thoughts and left my mind clean again.
I still do this exercise now if I feel my mood slipping. I'll just start a note on my phone and write down a simple activity/mood tracker for the day and then have a look at it the following morning (the benefit of hindsight is a real thing, it will be a lot clearer after a night of sleep). The whole reason I am writing this blog post is that I have felt out of sorts for the last few days. And low and behold, I have also been rewatching a series I haven't seen in a while but that always reminds me of a particular time in my life. Don't get me wrong, I am all for nostalgia but it is a good thing to stay present and be mindful of connections your brain can make. Remember that you choose your reaction - so choose the positive one and don't allow that old trigger to pull you down.
I thought that this blog might be useful to some others who also have trouble with identifying triggers and breaking unhealthy habits. I hope it has been, comment below I'd love to hear from you 🙂