Most of life is habitual. You do the same things you did yesterday, the day before and every day for the last month. It’s estimated that out of every 11,000 signals we receive from our senses, our brain only consciously processes 40.
Habits, good or bad, make you who you are. The key is controlling them. If you know how to change your habits, then even a small effort can create big changes.
I’ve been using these techniques for years to re-engineer many aspects of my life. That includes overhauling my diet, exercising regularly, cutting out television, and bulking my e-mail and work routines. Little changes that, when put on autopilot, can result in an improved quality of life.
Here are some tips to get you started:
One Habit For 30 Days – Steve Pavlina, popularized the 30 Day Trial. You focus on one change for thirty days. After that time it has been sufficiently conditioned to become a habit. I’ve used this as the basis for most of my habit changes. It definitely works to sculpt the automatic programs that run in the background of your mind.
Use a Trigger – A trigger is a short ritual you perform before a habit. If you wanted to wake up earlier this might mean jumping out of bed as soon as you hear the sound of your alarm. If you wanted to stop smoking this could be snapping your fingers every time you feel the urge for a cigarette. A trigger helps condition a new pattern more consistently.
Replace Lost Needs – If you opened up your computer and started removing hardware, what would happen. Chances are your computer wouldn’t work. Similarly, you can’t just pull out habits without replacing the needs they fulfill. Giving up television might mean you need to find a new way to relax, socialize or get information.
One Habit at a Time – A month may seem like a long time to focus on only one change, but I’ve found trying to change more than a few habits at a time to be reckless. With just one habit change you can focus on making it really stick. Multitasking between three or four often means none become habits.
Balance Feedback – The difference between long-term change and giving up on day 31 is the balance of feedback. If your change creates more pain in your life than joy, it is going to be hard to stick to. Don’t go to the gym if you hate it. Find diets, exercise, financial plans and work routines that are fun to follow and support you.
“But” to Kill Bad Thoughts – A prominent habit-changing therapist once told me a great way to nuke bad thinking. Anytime you feel yourself thinking negatively about yourself, use the word “but” and point out positive aspects. “I’m lousy at this job – but – if I keep at it I can probably improve.”
Write it Down – Don’t leave commitments in your brain. Write them on paper. This does two things. First, it creates clarity by defining in specific terms what your change means. Second, it keeps you committed since it is easy to dismiss a thought, but harder to dismiss a promise printed in front of you.
30, 90, 365 – I’d like to say most habits go through a series of checkpoints in terms of conditioning. The first is at thirty days. Here it doesn’t require willpower to continue your change, but problems might offset it. At ninety days any change should be neutral where running the habit is no more difficult than not running it. At one year it is generally harder not to run the habit than to continue with it. Be patient and run habits through the three checkpoints to make them stick.
Get Leverage – Give a buddy a hundred bucks with the condition to return it to you only when you’ve completed thirty days without fail. Make a public commitment to everyone you know that you’re going to stick with it. Offer yourself a reward if you make it a month. Anything to give yourself that extra push.
Keep it Simple – Your change should involve one or two rules, not a dozen. Exercising once per day for at least thirty minutes is easier to follow than exercising Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays with yoga the first day and mountain biking the third day, except when it is raining in which case you will do… Simple rules create habits, complex rules create headaches.
Consistency is Key – The point of a habit is that it doesn’t require thought. Variety may be the spice of life, but it doesn’t create habits. Make sure your habit is as consistent as possible and is repeated every day for thirty days. This will ensure a new habit is drilled in, instead of multiple habits loosely conditioned.
Experiment – You can’t know whether a different habit will work until you try it. Mix around with key habits until you find ones that suit you. Don’t try to follow habits because you should, but because you’ve tested them and they work in your life.
Post Your Change Here – Pick a change you want to work on and post it right here in the comments. You’ll get the benefits of writing it down and making a public commitment. The best time to start is right now.
There is no better way to break bad habits than knowing you have the confidence to do so. Confidence is the key to a well lived life.
Image by acqyr