Making your habits work for you

Eliminating toxic behavioral patterns and creating excellent habits for an extraordinary life

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Albert Einstein once said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and again and expecting different results.”  Ironically, this is exactly how most folks go about their lives. They bemoan the sorry state of their affairs yet fail to take steps to change their daily actions. The result: they live sad-filled lives, with no hope of breaking even.

In some cases, this is not a result of sloth, but due to how hard it is to change harmful habits. It takes a lot of grit and commitment to discard old ways of doing things and embracing new ones. It might even be impossible to achieve this feat without some external help. This is why this article is both timely and crucial.

Here, we show you tested and proven steps to changing old habits and taking charge of your life. In the same vein, we draw inspiration from books on the subject. Hopefully, learning from these authors and their years of experience could make all the difference. However, before then, let’s look at what habits denote and why they are essential for the average Joe.

What are Habits and Why Do They Matter?

Habits are actions we carry out often without consciously being aware of them. In this category are activities carried out repeatedly over a length of time, such that your brain has become attuned to doing them. Due to how conversant you are with the said behavior, it then seems to come naturally to you without exerting mental energy on it.

Habits ordinarily ought to defy value judgments. This is to say that on their own, they are neither good nor bad. More so, every human has routines, i.e., habits that they carry out each day. It could be as simple as the how and when you take your coffee or as important as the routine you carry out before surgery as a doctor.  However, the individual’s specific action turns into a habit that determines whether the pattern is harmful or not.

These patterns are quite powerful and could be one of the single most important factors for success. Research has shown that good habits can be more important than self-control when it comes to attaining goals.  

Consider a person who intends to learn how to play chess. This fellow could be proficient in Math and has an uncanny ability for resolving probabilities and analyzing problems. These two skills are primary for becoming a top player of the game. However, if this person fails to develop the self-discipline required to engage in the regular practice (daily even), they’d not make as much progress as someone with less skill but more commitment to daily training. 

This illustration above aptly depicts what Aristotle meant when he said,

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”

Given the importance of habits, it is then essential to learn how to develop and sustain good ones. In the section below, we will discuss critical ways to build and maintain excellent skills. We will also be referencing three essential books on the subject.

How to Develop and Maintain Good Habits

The trick is to begin. Once you do, you’ll realize that really; there is nothing to it. Here are the steps to developing great habits:

Start Small

As with everything in life, you need to start small. Whether you are trying to change a bad habit or develop new ones, you need to take baby steps. Habits take a long time to develop. Think of it as a massive tree with stalwart branches. It probably took that tree years to build to the point that it grew to. Hence, to eliminate bad habits, you have to start bit by bit. Eventually, you will strengthen your decision-making abilities enough to reject bad habits. Similarly, you will have to gradually build up the commitment necessary for good habits to take root and blossom.

In Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, Stephen Guise admonishes that “Doing a little bit every day has a greater impact than doing a lot on one day.” Guise places a lot of premium on baby steps, which he dubs “mini habits.” Through this book, he teaches that starting small is not a sign of weakness and further that there is a small step that started it all for every great accomplishment.

Eliminate the Stimuli

Specific factors often inform habits. Most of these stimuli are external and can act as triggers to the pattern. It thus makes sense that when you eliminate or minimize the incentives, you prevent the harmful habit from kicking in.

It is a crucial topic handled by the New York Times bestselling author, James Clear. In his book, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, he enunciates the steps to creating and sustaining habits that would birth great results. Specifically, on the subject of triggers, the author identifies 5 triggers that make any habit stick. 

He refers to each trigger as a loop. In the time loop, the author states that people often carry out actions at specific times without even realizing it. For the location loop, he recognizes the environment as the most crucial factor that affects habits. Hence, he admonishes readers to be wary of the locations and environmental factors that could weaken their self-discipline, causing them to fall back into old habits. He also highlights the importance of the people, emotional and preceding event loop. For each one, he shows how they could impact the formation of new and helpful habits.

Create Systems

If you want to develop new and helpful habits in the same vein, you need to create the right stimuli around you deliberately. Those triggers would help reinforce positive behavior, making sure that you maintain the right path at all times. As James Clear illustrates in Atomic Habits, each loop can either be used as a positive reinforcement of healthy choices or damage your resolve and commitment. Similarly, in Mini Habits, Guise admonishes that to form new habits, one must force themselves to take 1-4 ‘stupid small’ strategic actions each day. These actions ultimately form a pattern that would be hard to break.

Celebrate Every Win

You will most likely fail, especially at the start. However, if you stay the course, refusing to relent, you will get to see some wins. Do not forget to celebrate these wins when they happen. It might be hard–human nature is given to self-flagellate rather than to praise. In Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Changes Everything, B. J. Fogg engages the power of celebrating each unique milestone. The author was emphatic while holding that there is absolutely no milestone too little to celebrate. It is a crucial lesson you must learn as you set out on the path to developing better habits.

Habits are the stuff humans are made of. The quality of life a person has is directly tied to the daily habits and routines they subscribe to. If you aren’t pleased about your life, the power to turn it around is in your hands. We’ve discussed the steps to developing healthy habits above. To gain further insight from the books in this article, you can head over to the Headway app to read summaries of these books.

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