We have all heard of the magical existence of the mystical creature called the Habit. Have you even seen it? Have you talked to it? I doubt it but yet, this marvelous creation of our brains is one of the biggest forces in our lives. In fact, studies show that up to 90% of what we do during the day (and during our lives) is down to our habits.
Think about it – what do you do when you wake up? If you are most humans – you go to the bathroom and do your thing(s). Then you drink coffee, eat breakfast, talk to your spouse/kids, get ready for work, go to work, work, come home. All of it has been neurologically linked so that your brain can take it easy. You don’t overthink, so you don’t overuse your brain. It can be stored for better use. That’s what your brain does – it wants to have it easy and it may have the formula for success.
What Can We Use Habits For?
Going to the store when you have nothing in your fridge – that is a habit. So is showering when you stink, putting a coat during the winter, watching TV, reading a book and etc. For better or for worse, what shapes us most in our lives are our habits.
And yet, so many successful people are urging the rest of us to create and follow the “good habits”. Watching TV is bad but reading books is good. Eating too much pizza is bad but working out is good. Kicking yourself in the joint is bad but meditating is good and so on.
I have had so many habits that were slowly but surely leading me towards a body I was not happy with. I lived for years with the bad mentality that money cannot stick with me and it always finds a way to fly away. I used to have the bad habit of not going out with a few friends who were just wasting time drinking. And even though I was miserable with the time spent doing this, I kept going.
Good Meets Bad
We are all born with heads on top of our shoulders which means we should be able to make our own choices. At least, we should all be free to do so. However, most people go down a negative road from early childhood and they follow it for years and years. Watching TV is much easier (and probably more fun) than reading the Art of War. Ordering pizza is easier and more delicious than eating steamed broccoli. While we should all make our own decisions, there is a good reason why some habits are generally considered constructive and some destructive.
Most times “bad habits” are caused by boredom and stress. We tend to go to our safe heaven when we feel stressed out. This is when we overspend, overeat, even overtrain or overwork – everything too excessive becomes negative. The bad habits are so much easier to create. They seem simple, obvious, and easily justified when we do them.
How Are Habits Formed?
Isn’t that the question of the century? There are so many theories on that. Some say it takes 14-21 days of constant repetition to do something automatically. It becomes a habit when we don’t think about doing it. As per Wikipedia – a habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. In other words, we have a habit when we do something without thinking that we have to do it.
Others are very strict and punctual – they say exactly 66 days. They even split it into 3 different categories. 22 days for the deconstruction of the previous habit (probably the hardest part). 22 days of confusion (when we don’t know what happens now) and 22 days of constructing the new one. There is actually a lot of science backing up this one and with my experience – they may have a point.
Actually, I think that those two theories might be helping each other. The first one states that we need up to 21 days to create a new habit but the deconstruction of the former habit is not in that timeframe. And as we are all creatures of already existing habits, if we want to have a new habit, we have to replace the old one.
Another theory says that we form some habits in seconds. Let’s contemplate this one for a moment. If you put your hand on the hot stove, what happens? Well, besides the pain, you will also learn a lesson for life and you will never ever do it again. That’s a formed habit for a split second! This is what science called a significant emotional event (SEE).
How to Create a New Habit
With all the information on the internet and in books about habits, I managed to create a short list of steps that I think can help you create a new habit. Some seem pretty simple and obvious but I think that they are an important part of the journey.
1. Decide on what you want.
Simple, right? Not easy though. Most people can tell you what they DON’T want in details but very few can give you specifications of what they really want to accomplish. Even fewer can give you the steps and the habits they need to form to get there.
2. Don’t make excuses or exceptions.
Just do it. If you want to work out every day – just do it every day. If you make one exception, you will make another one and another one.
3. Share your goal.
Tell others about what you have decided as this will keep you accountable. It’s much easier to follow through when you know that people are watching (and some are judging you). Have a consequence if you don’t follow through.
I am a big fan of visualization as we talked in this article. Imagine yourself following the good habit you have formed. Imagine yourself with the result of following that habit for a week, a month, a year. How would you feel if you can eat right and work out for a year – would the results satisfy you or make you hungrier for more?
5. Keep doing until it’s automatic.
This is what we mentioned before – the process has to become automatic. In fact, when you DON’T do the newly formed habit and you feel guilty about it, then you know that it has been formed.
6. Reward yourself.
If there is a consequence if you don’t follow through, there must be a reward if you do. Put something good. If you have a new habit formed and you feel it – get a great reward for yourself that will push you towards the new one.
There were other tips like affirmations that I decided to exclude as I have not practiced them (yet). But a must tip is that you should not focus on creating more than one habit at a time. If you want to replace watching movies with reading more, just put the remote control away from and get a book next to you on the couch. Your laziness will be your friend and will keep you from standing and actually walking to get the remote control. The book will now seem easier and who knows, you might actually enjoy it. Make the bad habit seem like the more difficult choice. Let the good one be noticeably easier to begin. Then the fun starts.