Mindful Habits? How to Frame Your Habits

When choosing habits to focus on in a habit tracker, are there right or wrong ways to frame them? This question ran through my mind as I laid out my habits this month. There are some habits that I pursue consistently: get out of bed by 5:45am; read a book for 15+ minutes; no screen time after 9:30pm. I don't always achieve them, but I try not to skip them twice in a row, lest breaking them turns into new habits that I need to break.

Some other habits have been less clear cut, though. One of the habits I listed was "no chocolate chips," because I have a tendency to eat a sizable bowl of dark chocolate chips each day after lunch. It's something I look forward to and enjoy, but, deciding that it's a little indulgent and isn't a good habit to have, I added it to my list of habits to break.

The behavior persisted. Of all my habits the first week of the month, this was the one I broke far more than I kept. Each day I quietly excused myself — "Dark chocolate is good for you!" "This is something you enjoy!" "You're allowed to have a few, just don't overdo it!" — as I questioned the merits and downsides of the habit.

I spent some time trying to parse the issue and determined that it wasn't the chocolate chips that I wanted to eliminate from my day, but rather, the way I would mindlessly snack on a small bowl, sometimes two, while sitting in front of my laptop and doing work. I was guilty of helping myself to seconds not because I necessarily wanted more, but because I was so distracted while eating the first that I didn't even enjoy it.

Now I've reframed the habit as "mindful snacking." For me, this means no more absent-minded snacking while doing work; if I'm hungry for a snack, I'll sit and enjoy it away from my computer, where I can focus on it and enjoy it while it lasts.

I adjusted a second habit in a similar way: "mindful social media" instead of "no social media." My goal of no social media was difficult to maintain, and once I would find myself on instagram momentarily, even if accidentally, I would say to myself, "well, you already broke the habit for today, so why stop now?" By reframing it as "mindful social media," if I catch myself scrolling without a purpose on instagram, I now try to close out of the window as quickly as I can and refocus my attention on something else. (For reference, I do sometimes engage in "mindful social media" for work purposes, and during the craziness of 2020, I've tried to have a healthy balance of both tuning in and tuning out.)

My takeaway? Think about each activity in terms of what specifically you want to change vs. keep, and don't assume it has to be all or nothing. For me, at least in these instances, it's about doing things mindfully.