A habit is defined as a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. If you instinctively reach for a chocolate bar right after meals, you have a habit. If you check your emails first thing upon starting up your computer, you have a habit. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form because the behavioral patterns we repeat are imprinted in our neural pathways. If you are not as fit as you are today, it’s because of old habits that keep you inactive. If you are not as successful as you wish to be today, it’s because bad habits kept you from taking the necessary steps to get to the top of the ladder.
- Decision To Commit
- Understand How Habits Work
- Length of Habit Formation
- Identify Bad Habits
- Change Your Routine
- Introduce Time Delay
- Window Of Opportunity
- One By One
- Visual Reinforcements
- Emotional Reinforcements
- Identify Good Habits
- You Are Not Alone
- Stay Motivated
- No Excuses
Nobody in this world can stop you if you decide to continue with your bad habit. Change will come the day you truly want it. Some habits will be much harder than others, harder than changing from using chopsticks with your right hand to your left hand, but with a firm decision and unwavering determination, you will make it.
The process within our brains that creates habits is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward — becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges. What’s unique about cues and rewards, however, is how subtle they can be.
A great example would be backing the car out of the driveway. When we first learned how to drive, a large dose of concentration was involved. You had to peer into the rearview and side mirrors checking for obstacles, putting your foot on the brake, moving the gearshift to reverse, removing your foot from the brake, estimating the distance between the garage and the street while keeping the wheels aligned, calculating how images in the mirrors translate into actual distances, all while applying differing amounts of pressure to the gas pedal and brake. After doing the same routine over and over again, you now pull into the street without thinking much. As a result, a habit is formed.
Habit formation is a slow process. The average time to reach the limits of automaticity is 66 days with a range of 18–254 days.
Look out for the cue, routine, reward. The bad part of the habit lies in the routine.
Cue – Feel stressed.
Routine – Smoke a cigarette.
Reward – Feel relaxed.
Cue – Feel drowsy.
Routine – Make a cup of coffee.
Reward – Feel a lift.
Cue – See several sleek looking shoes on sale.
Routine – Try and eventually buy the ones you like.
Reward – Feel excited.
A habit turns into an addiction when you cannot turn away from the act even if you want to and are willing to go to great lengths to obtain the reward. Beware as some of these 14 addictions may already have its grip on you.
Experiment with a different routine. If you feel drowsy, take a nap. In the office, restroom, car, conference room, library, etc. If you feel stressed, stamp it out by engaging in your senses. Listen to a song that lifts you, look at a picture of your loved ones, squeeze a hand grip, chew a gum, etc. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
Let’s use the habit of eating out of boredom as an example. If you have a craving make yourself wait 15 minutes before you are “allowed” to eat. Often in those 15 minutes you will likely become distracted by something else. Same goes to impulse buying. If you see a nice looking pair of shoe that you really like, sleep on it. Put it into your wishlist if you must. Let the world take a turn and then check out whether or not you really still want it.
For any habit there will be times when you’re not even aware you’re doing it, it’s hard to hold yourself responsible for those. But there will be times when you stop to contemplate it, and it’s at that point that you have the power to interrupt your pattern of behaviour. Act differently by doing something immediate yet mindful like taking a long breath. Your victories will be counted in the times you’ve successfully altered your mind’s direction away from the habit.
Lest you get over overwhelmed. If all of your energy is placed on just one habit, you are about 10x’s more likely to change it than if your motivation, willpower, commitment, and energy is scattered amongst a number of challenging habit changes.
Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret. Print out a calendar and mark an ‘X’ on days you did a desired alternative activity on that day. This creates a chain of ‘X’s showing your progress. If you don’t do your specified task on one day, you don’t get an ‘X’.
There’s always some progress to recognize in a day, even on the most challenging or discouraging days. Celebrate each achievement, no matter how small. It helps you stay focused and motivated. You can eventually leverage that confidence toward subsequent larger successes.
Fill up your day with good habits. List down and prioritize habits that stimulate the mind, body and soul. Good examples include exercise, dancing, writing, gardening, cooking, etc. Sign yourself up for a long term goal like a marathon, dancing competition, singing competition, speech contest, etc. Having something to look forward to and prepare for, automatically incorporates the good habit into your life.
Realize that you are not alone. Worrying too much, complaining, always blaming others, disrespecting time, talking too much are just 5 of the many other bad habits that are affecting everyone around you. Some are in far worse conditions than you are. Read more about the 14 dreadful addictions that are currently affecting the lives of people around the world.
Get clear and focus on ‘why’ you want this new habit. Make sure this ‘why’ is very specific and personal. ‘To be healthier’ may not carry much of an impact. It has to be something that is bigger than you, something that truly brings joy to your soul like a mother quitting smoking for the well being and health of her baby.
“He who has a why to live can bear or deal with almost any how” ~Viktor Frankl.