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When it comes to creating a new habit you may find that it is a lot more difficult than you thought it would be. Picking up a bad habit is way easier. Just think of the last time you were around someone who has bad habits and how “contagious” those habits seem to be. If life were perfect, it would be easy to break bad habits and even easier to create new good habits. But in fact, it’s just the opposite. I’m going to explain how habits work, teach you a strategy for breaking bad habits, creating new ones and to make good habits stick.
How a Habit Works
You’re not even consciously aware of 95% of the decisions you make on a daily basis. It’s crucially important to be actively creating good habits. You’ll have a major advantage to those who are just bumping along in life reacting to their organic bad habits.
Think of a habit that you already have that has been there for years. Once an act becomes a habit, it has roots in your brain. Kind of like a tree, the older the habit, the deeper the roots. The deeper the roots, the harder it is to pull that habit from your brain. Once habits are created, however, they stay on auto-pilot and it’s easy to perform them. Once you have a habit you don’t even have to think about doing it.
A great example of this is driving. Think back to when you first learned to drive. You were probably overwhelmed with all the information you had to process in a split second. How to make a right turn, how much gas to apply in that turn, how far to crank the wheel, watching for pedestrians, being cautious of other drivers, making sure you have enough space between you and the curb and making sure you don’t turn too wide. And that’s just turning. Can you imagine all thousands of other things you do while driving? But how about now? As an experienced driver, you have now created the habit. You don’t even have to think about driving and you can do multiple tasks like, talk to other passengers, sing, eat, have a phone call and (you totally shouldn’t do this) text.
What happens when you repeat an action over and over again, it creates a neuro-signature in your brain, also called brain grooves. The more you repeat a behavior the deeper the groove gets and the less you have to think at all about performing that behavior. This is also why breaking a bad habit is so difficult.
Breaking a Bad Habit
As I mentioned above, breaking a bad habit isn’t going to be easy. In fact, breaking a bad habit can be equated to a drug addict giving up their habit of drugs. You will have physical, mental and psychological breakdowns. You may have withdrawal symptoms and the psychological toll will be extremely difficult. Especially if that habit has been rooted in you for several, 20, 30 or more years. The longer the habit has been around the deeper the roots and the harder to pluck from your existence.
I’m not going to sugar coat this for you. I want you to realize that breaking a bad habit takes consistency, strength in character and EXTREME commitment. Think of your habits like your floating down a river with the current. When you decide you want to reverse a habit, you are going to have to turn around and swim against the current. It’s going to be a struggle, and it’s not going to be easy.
I know this sounds hard and scary. And it is. But I can’t tell you enough about the huge advantage you will have over everyone else around you. Plus the confidence and character you’ll build in the process of this is so worth it. If you want a life that’s better than mediocre, you’ll place good habits on the top of your list of importance. Your outcomes in life are a direct product of your habits. So to make a great life, make great habits.
Strategy for Identifying Habits and Unlearning Bad Ones
New Habits to Create
If you want to create a new habit it all comes back to your goals. Think about your goals. What is the most important goal you want to accomplish? Write it down. If you need some help setting goals, sign up to get access to our Resource Library and you can download our free SMART Goals Worksheet.
Once you have your top goal think of the behaviors you need to accomplish this goal. For example, let say your goal is to feel and look really good. What is that going to take? Losing 20 pounds you say? Okay, so what is that going to take? Eating great and working out. So if you had to focus on just one, I’m going to say working out. Because for me, when I’m consistently working out then I’m naturally going to eat better. I don’t want all that hard work I’ve done to go to waste. So I need to create the habit of working out. So logging the number of minutes working out is the behavior we need to be doing consistently to create the habit.
Identify Bad Habits
The next step in this strategy is to identify the bad habits you currently have that will distract you from creating the new habit you’ve just come up with. And the behavior you need to adopt to take you in the right direction. For example, you may need to cut back on the late-night binge watching you do so you can get to bed earlier, to wake up earlier to get in your workout. Therefore getting in the habit of your new regimen/schedule. This is the kind of behavior you’ll want to uproot in your daily method of operation. Brainstorm any other habits that you may have that you need to change and adjust those to fit your top goal.
Unlearning a Bad Habit
So exactly how do you uproot these bad habits? Follow these 3 steps.
Identify your triggers
Take a look at your list of bad habits and then identify what triggers them? Use the 4 W’s. The who, what, where, when. For example, are you more likely to drink too much when you’re with certain people or doing a certain activity? Is there a time of day you just need to have sweets? What emotions trigger your overeating? Fatigue, sadness, stress, etc. When do you experience those emotions? What situations prompt those bad habits? So write down the who, what, where and when of the triggers of the behavior of the habit you want to squash.
You have to clean house
Literally and figuratively. Your environment has to support your healthy habits and cannot be a temptation on your poor habits. In the end, willpower is weak and it does not work. You need to remove the temptations. Because drawing on willpower to resist temptation is far too draining and in the end, the temptation will be far too great for you to resist.
Every time you have to activate willpower, it becomes weaker. And I’m not just talking about willpower when it comes to food, I’m talking about willpower overall. Say you need the willpower to avoid the distractions at work to get that project done. By the time you get home, you’ve drained yourself of all your willpower and you see someone has made a delicious pan of brownies. You won’t have any willpower left to resist that temptation. This is why it’s crucial to eliminate or severely minimize any and all distractions that use up your willpower.
You’ve created a habit that is so automatic that it’s going to be extremely difficult to just stop. So you need to swap it with a better more healthy/positive habit. For example, take smoking. A smoker is used to putting something in their mouth. So when they quit smoking they need to replace that action of putting something in their mouth. A lot of people will use gum or some have even used a fake cigarette to still simulate the action but not get the nicotine associated with the action. Another example is I like to have something sweet after dinner. However, if there is ice cream in the house I’m more likely to overdo it and eat the whole pint. Instead, I just have 2 mini dove chocolates. This satisfies my sweet craving habit without going overboard and ruining my new healthy eating plan.
Create an Ease-in/Ease-out Plan
It’s also best to do an ease-in/ease-out plan when it comes to creating a new habit or getting rid of a bad one. Don’t try to accomplish this cold-turkey. Take it step-by-step, day by day. A good example of this is when I gave up my bad habit up drinking several cans of soda a day. If you’ve ever tried to give it up cold turkey, you know this method does not work. So instead, I eased-out of drinking soda. I started by decreasing my soda consumption by 1 can and replacing that with flavored water. Doing this for a few days, I then decreased by another can, replacing with water. After 6-8 weeks of doing this, I got to the point where I was only drinking water each day. I had no caffeine withdrawals and by the end didn’t miss having soda at all.
Making a Good Habit Stick
Make it Easy
Humans are inherently lazy. To create a new habit and stick to it, it has to be easy, convenient, fast and comfortable. Any resistance at all and you’re going to give up. Let’s say the new habit you want to create is getting up early to work out. One step you could take to make it easier is to lay out your workout clothes for the morning. Shoes, socks, shorts, sports bra, shirt. Put your shoes right by your bed so when you first put your feet on the ground to get out of bed, your workout shoes are right there. Mentally reminding you to workout. Having fewer choices that you need to make will make it easier for you to stick to your behavior.
Leverage the Lazy Factor in the Opposite
Whatever habit you’re trying to break, make it more difficult to do it. Sometimes you have to protect yourself against yourself. Let’s say you want to break the habit of watching too much tv. Take the batteries out of the remote and put them on one side of your house and put the remote on the other side of your house. Just the effort to retrieve both these items will have you thinking twice about watching a show. However, that book you’ve set the goal to read is open on the arm of the chair conveniently right next to you.
Basically, you want to make the new habits you’re trying to build easy and the bad habits you want to get rid of difficult.
Think Addition, not subtraction
When you’re trying to create a new habit, think in terms of what you get, not what you can no longer have. Let’s say you decide to create the habit of eating healthy. Instead of getting upset by thinking of all the yummy foods you can no longer have. Think of all the new foods you get to have and try. Fill your focus on what you CAN have and eliminate any thought to what you can’t. Thinking of your new habit, list out all the new awesome things you CAN have throughout your journey. If you give your attention to things you can’t have it will further your despair and less likely to stick to the necessary behaviors it will take to making the habit stick. That’s why you need to shift the focus to what you CAN have and things you will enjoy.
Apply Pressure on Yourself
- PDA – Public Display of Accountability. We are used to letting ourselves down. We’ll go back on our commitment to ourselves in a heartbeat. But we will do the most incredible things if we promise someone else we’ll do something. My friend did this by taking a picture of her running shoes every single day and posted it on her Instagram and Facebook. This created a public accountability and tracking system to her friends. And boy let me tell you when she missed a day, she heard about it.
- Take On Your New Habit with a Friend. It’s always more fun to do things with a buddy. You’ll both be accountable to each other and create the awesome new habit you’re both trying to create. Make it even more fun by making it a competition. The winner gets a prize and the losers have to do something for the winner.
- Punishment. This one is so super effective. Everyone says that a reward system is an effective tool for creating a habit. But something that I’ve found even more effective is punishment. This is how it would work. Think of something you are super passionate about. Now think of the opposite to that thing. Whatever that opposite thing is, you’re going to donate to if you don’t stick to and achieve your habit/goal. Like, let’s say you are very liberal. Donating to the republic party would probably be a great punishment. Make out a significant dollar amount (enough so it would hurt a little) in the form of a check to the organization you despise. Put it in an envelope, address it appropriately, and stamp it. Then give it to a close friend with these explicit instructions. Tell them your goal. If you do not hit your goal by the determined date, with hard proof, they are charged with mailing the check without notifying you. No questions asked. No matter your excuses.
The last suggestion I’m going to give you. The greatest influences you have in your life are due to your associations. Your ability to stick to your new success habit is going to be greatly affected by the people around you. YOU NEED TO TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY. Take the list of habits you want to break and the new ones you want to adopt. Make a list of the people who will help you succeed with your new good habits and won’t tempt you with the bad ones you want to rid yourself of. I’m not talking about their encouraging words, I’m referring to their example. You have to get around the people who have the habits you want and spend less time or eliminate time with those who have habits you don’t.
Be very cautious and deliberate about who you let into your association base. Now get to creating those great habits.
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