For the most part, our lives are formed around habits. Some are good, others are bad, and we often want to change the bad ones but we never get around to doing it. Habits can be very complicated to understand, but the book – The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – does a great job at simplifying the concept.
This blog is split in 2 parts, part 1 explains what habits are and part 2 explains how to change your habits.
Part 1 – Understanding what Habits are
A habit can be broken down with the following 3 steps:
- The cue, it’s a trigger that tells your brain to go on automatic mode.
- The routine, it’s either physical, mental or emotional.
- The reward, which helps you figure out if the particular loop is worth remembering.
For example, you wake up feeling hungry (the cue), you walk to the kitchen and make a bowl of cereal (the routine), you eat it and feel full (the reward).
Current Habits VS Creating New Habits
“Our brain can’t tell the difference between good and bad habits which is one of the main reason it’s so hard to change them. Once we develop a routine of sitting on the couch, rather than running, or snacking whenever we pass a doughnut box, those patterns always remain inside our head.” (The Power of Habit)
However once you create a new pattern or loop; going for a jog rather than sitting on the couch becomes just as easy as spending your evening on Netflix instead of studying. Once you create a new habit it’s as easy to maintain whether it is a good or bad habit.
Part 2 – How to Change Your Habits?
The hardest part of WANTING to change an old habit is that you don’t HAVE to.
When your life is not at risk, when you have the comfort needed, when you don’t NEED to change something about your lifestyle, that’s when it’s the hardest. Because you always have something to fall back on and friends or relatives that will support you.
Bluntly put, there are no fast nor easy ways. Some minor research in how habits are formed and the human brain would back my point up but this post is not a neuroscience research article.
Step 1 – Decide What You Want to Change.
What is the current habit that you want to change? Is it the fact that you spend all evening watching Netflix instead of doing work or homework? Smoking cigarettes? Or wanting to wake up earlier to go for a morning jog to start your day?
Whatever it is, just figure it out. If you have more than one, be patient and change one at a time.
Step 2 – Changing Your Habit For the First Time.
After deciding what you want to change, you have to do it for the first time.
Let’s say you normally wake up at 6:30, you do your morning routine and then you go to school or work. But you want to become more active and decide to add a morning jog to your routine.
So to change your habit you’ll have to break your current habit loop and change it by waking up 45 minutes earlier and put on your running gear (the cue). Then you’ll go for a 20 min jog and shower quickly (the routine), then you’ll start your day feeling amazing and healthier (the reward).
Step 3 – The Hardest Part.
Maintaining your new routine until it becomes a habit is the hard part, it’s the part that usually most don’t achieve. How many times have you told yourself you’d stop smoking, did it for a few days and then caved in? How many times did you say you would start working out at the gym, got the membership, went for a few days maybe weeks and then stopped?
This is the hard part. The process of turning a new routine into a habit is what makes it seem impossible to change your life for the better.
Your old habits are still clinging to you and it feels like the whole world doesn’t want you to change. You’re most likely also surrounded by people that are part of your old habits. For example, you’re on lunch break, at work, and all your friends are going out for a cigarette during a time where you have a whole internal battle in your head. You want to change that very habit, you’re already irritated because of your nicotine addiction and then you have this outside influence that keeps waving the cigarette in front of your eyes. You finally cave in and reach out for the cigarette that your friend is handing you.
Or you want to start running in the mornings so you do it the first day. Great! Then the next day, when the alarm rings 45 minutes earlier than usual and your legs feel like they’re about to fall off because of yesterday’s jog. At that point you probably tell yourself. “Fuck it, I’ll do it tomorrow. Anyways my legs are too sore.” And you find a whole bunch of excuses to make yourself feel better.
It’s all true, it happens to me, it happens to you, it happens to all of us. But what differentiates KEEPING an old habit and MAKING a new one is pushing through these specific hard times.
I have few advice that might or might not help you, but it did help me a lot in changing my habits.
- When you create a new habit, you’re changing your lifestyle slightly. Since you’re already fighting a battle against your own habits, reducing outside influence is the best thing to do. Disconnect from the people that are part of your old habit. I’m not telling you to do it permanently but rather at least until the new habit is formed.
- Before wanting to change your habit, write down the new habit and a little description of why you want it so badly and when you’re at your worst times make sure to read that little text because it will give you that extra willpower to push through.
- Having an outside motivation can greatly help you mentally to push yourself when you’re at breaking point. It can be a friend that has a similar goal in mind or hiring a trainer or a mentor.
At the end of the day, you decide what you do with your life. This blog should help you understand what habits are and give you good tips on changing them. But the main battle that you face and the deciding factor resides within you. You are the one who will deal with the frustration and will have to push through the harder moments!
I want to end this blog by sharing a quote from my favorite blogger Mark Manson.
“Call me crazy, but I believe that changing and improving your life requires destroying a part of yourself and replacing it with a newer, better part of yourself. It is therefore, by definition, a painful process full of resistance and anxiety. You can’t grow muscle without challenging it with greater weight. You can’t build emotional resilience without forging through hardship and loss. And you can’t build a better mind without challenging your own beliefs and assumptions.” – Mark Manson