Habits & Weeds

Health, March 24, 2022

Habits that harm are like weeds; while habits that help are more like native trees. We all need to cultivate our environment with more trees and less weeds - that way true potential can be realised

Our family has a steep sloping piece of land in the Coromandel peninsula. A beautiful part of Aotearoa, New Zealand famous for it's beaches, and forests. Our long term goal is to one day place a caravan or small cabin on it but until then we have cleared the site of scrub and noxious weeds, and planted over 600 native trees and shrubs. Since planting in 2021 we go back every 4-6 weeks to do battle with the weeds. If we don't keep the weeds under control then our young native trees would be engulfed, the life strangled out of them; and our vision of a piece of land with thriving native trees, bird song, and ferns would be destroyed.

Spending many hours pulling weeds I realised there are many similarities between weeds, trees, and our daily habits. James Clear wrote that our habits are the 'compound interest of self improvement'. I'm a great believer that investing in small actions that benefit on a daily basis will gather momentum over time creating massive positive change. Unfortunately the habits that don't serve our best interests can also take hold and manifest as negative outcomes down the line.  


Good habits take time to bed in

When first planting a small native tree the first few weeks of it's time in the ground is imperative to it's eventual outcome. The roots need time to bed in with the soil, it needs water, sunlight, and after a few months it will start to thrive. When you first 'plant' a beneficial habit in your routine it's important to ensure you give it time to take root and establish. I've seen people talk about 21 days to establish a habit. I disagree. To successfully enmesh a habit into your routine you need 66-100 days. If I only weeded and watered our trees for a few weeks then left them to it - the weeds would overgrow the new growth and not allowing it to establish. Just like a new planting of a native tree, a beneficial habit requires careful cultivation to allow it to take hold and then thrive. Once implanted the benefits will then start to compound. 


Bad habits are difficult to remove once established

I'm always amazed at how quickly weeds establish and grow. The longer you leave them the more difficult they are to extract. Woolly nightshade and gorse (two very prolific introduced weeds in Aotearoa) are simple to get rid of when they are small. In fact I can pull them by hand with minimal effort. The spikes on the gorse are relatively soft, and the root systems are not deep so can be plucked without much effort. Think of a bad habit like a weed. Once they take hold and take root they are very difficult to remove. If you go for the quick fix then they will reemerge quickly. Once the weeds are more well established more effort is required to remove them. If you employ the some pull method as applied to a young weed then they won't budge or even worse you snap the upper weed leaving the tap root in place. On the surface everything looks great but underneath the weed is ready to spring forth again as it hasn't been totally dealt with. A 21 day diet or 6 week bootcamp might create some surface change but if you want to get to the root of the issue sometimes deeper, more uncomfortable work is required. When the weeds are older and larger far more effort is required to remove them - either more force (grabbing them at the base with two hands and a slight twisting action as you pull more often than not removes the root system as well), or even cutting them with spray to kill off the roots. 


Once your days are filled with habits that serve you REAL growth occurs

Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life. If everyone took the comfortable path then your potential will be forever eroded and choked. Unfortunately we live in the great times of distraction. It is far easier to get take out rather than create a nutritious home cooked meal, stay in bed rather than get up early and go for a walk, or binge watch Netflix rather than have that challenging conversation with our partner. Engaging in comfort all the time will create growth of the wrong kind of habits. The weeds will take hold, and then total control of the landscape. Very little of real value will be able to take hold. Any beautiful native shrub that could develop into a majestic tree will never have the cultivating environment to take hold. It has taken real effort to plant trees, weed, water, and ensure the right conditions are in place for the right plants to spring forth. The first few years will be the most difficult as the native trees are at their most vulnerable to the surrounding fast growing weeds. If good habits are not cultivated and worked on then the bad habits will simply take over and strangle the opportunity for meaningful growth. The awesome thing about investing in the right kind of growth is that after a few years then the native trees will be established, they will grow a canopy that will shade out the weeds creating a positive feed forward loop for a growth environment. A little discomfort now for future growth and success is a far better choice than lots of comfort now with no oppourtunity for growth and potential later. 


Tips to create better habits

  • To change a habit you first need to be aware of them. Note down one or two habits that don't serve you and you would like to change. 
  • When planting a habit that serves you try tagging it on to an established habit, and start small. The first 5min of the action should be the first focus. 
  • When establishing a new habit in the routine share your intention with supportive friends and your household. If possible agree to meet up with a buddy to establish the new action
  • Reading and thinking about a new habit is helpful but only ACTION will start the journey towards a new you. Don't overthink it. Getting started is powerful. 


For a deeper dive into wellness and how to cultivate habits that will serve you get yourself a copy of my book 'Holistic Human' - it has a section on habit formation, plus separate chapters on exercise, nutrition, meditation, cold water, soil health, and relationships



Our land at Hahei, Coromandel