While researching the idea of training drills, I wondered if some of the benefits would fix my eating and shopping habits.
There are downsides to drills because they involve memorising certain actions until each action is instinctive. Instinctive responses can reduce flexibility and initiative. This can obscure opportunities for beneficial change. The problem is not just to create a better habit that I actually want to own but also to ensure that there is enough flexibility and initiative that keeps that better habit fresh and evolving.
When researching drills, I discovered that when they are used in the enclosed world of the military parade ground the drill commands usually have four parts (apparently the number depends on which military is involved).
First, there is the trigger. The parade commander identifies who will be following the command.
Second, there is the assessment. This is where the proposed action is presented in a slightly abstract way. Some people leave this out, but I think it’s worthwhile (and I’ll explain why below).
Third, there is a preparatory command. You can’t just say “Turn”as that would create chaos. You also can’t say “Turn Right”. The description has to come first. This bit is often loud and long and doesn’t sound like a normal word to the uninitiated. “RI-I-IGHT Turn”.
And last, there is the action. In this example, that’s the word “Turn”.
So, in our own little enclosed worlds, where we are our own parade commanders, we begin by identifying which habit must follow our command. Give it the heads up. Let it know there’s change on the way. Then, loudly, this parade commander will declare what is expected and signal that it is time to execute a new habit.
But the most important point is that the parade commander pauses between words. We must give ourselves the opportunity to assess whether the better habit is still serving us well or whether it needs to change.
For example, it was during just such a pause this morning that I realised the small, expensive ice cream in the store freezer was now in my hand only because I missed my usual glass of milk for breakfast. The parade commander had issued the instruction to open the glass case and retrieve the almond-flavoured ice cream. An action repeated often in the past. A habit already established. It was during that second step, the assessment, that I realised what was going on. Unfortunately, as I was not immediately going home, I decided to buy the ice cream.
My recent habit of drinking a glass of milk for breakfast has become inflexible. I guess it won’t matter what I eat for breakfast. If I miss out, the appetite will compensate and sometimes compensate badly. Perhaps, what I need to do here is close the ice cream case, go round the corner and grab a carton of flavoured milk instead.