We love the expression “turning over a new leaf,” (or page, or chapter, or whatever). But change is difficult. And, let’s just say it: it’s not always fun. Before we get started, let’s explain WHY habits are important.
- Habits help conserve brain power. A study from Duke University found that 45% of our daily behaviors are automatic. This study shows that habits help conserve precious brain power, allowing the brain to focus on more important and meaningful activities.
- Habits can make or break us. We can’t control others around us, but we can learn to control ourselves. Our daily habits can help us maintain healthy lifestyles and activities, but they can also keep us in unhealthy patterns. Becoming aware of your habits can help you understand where your positive and negative choices come from. According to Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, “Mastering yourself is true power.”
- Habits help you reach your goals. People often confuse habits with goals. Goals are the items you want to strategically achieve, (think big-picture). Habits are the series of small, every-day tasks that become part your automated routine. Your habits help you achieve your goals. Jim Ryun, accomplished athlete and politician, sums it up best: “Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going.”
What Are Habits?
Now that we know why habits are important, let’s find out what a habit is. Let’s take 32 seconds for a quick psychology lesson. Ready? Okay.
Habits can be broken down into three parts: cue, routine, reward. The cue is an emotional state, time of day, location, etc. This cue triggers your routine, (action), which induces the reward (what drives your habit). These three parts form a cycle, which is your habit! Thanks HabitsForWellbeing for this lesson.
(See? That wasn’t so bad!)
CNN says a habit takes 66 days to form—not 30. But, it varies depending on the activity and the person. Research shows that it takes 20 days to drink water every day, 60 days for eating fruit with lunch every day, and 84 days to do 50 sit-ups every day. PHEW! But 60 days is a good target for habit formation. As William James, philosopher and psychologist said, “All our life … is but a mass of habits.”
Now, this is good and bad. Good, because we don’t want to waste precious time or brain power on simple tasks like putting on a jacket, making coffee, chewing, etc. Automation is our friend! However, a habit can also be a not-so-good friend when it’s bad, like always eating in front of the T.V. or checking your phone while in the bathroom, etc.
But before we dive into bad habits, let’s talk about how someone first forms a new habit.
How Can I Make a Habit?
Habits don’t have to be as intense as “read 365 books this year,” or “run 5 miles every day.” (Unless running or reading a lot is your thing). There are many types of habits including habits for self-care, healthy eating, relationships, beauty, success, emotional intelligence (buzzword!), working out, etc.
To form a new habit, follow these 7 steps.
- Focus on just ONE new habit at a time
- Make it simple
- Build it into your routine
- Commit for a specific amount of time
- Plan for obstacles
- Ask someone to hold you accountable
- Recognize your progress (Take time to Treat Yo’Self in a healthy way).
As Aristotle put it, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore is not an act but a habit.”
How Can I Change a Habit?
Okay, time for another quick psychology lesson. (This will be fun I promise—it includes cookies). Ready? Okay.
Charles Duhigg, author of The Power Of Habit, (great book if you’re looking for more info on habits), explains habit breaking with a cookie analogy. While researching for his book, he would go to a cafeteria and buy a cookie—every single day. Pretty soon, he gained 8lbs. He tried telling himself to just “resist the cookies” or even put a note on his computer saying, “no more cookies!” But it didn’t work, until he took time to reflect.
It’s important to stop and reflect first. Charles Duhigg stopped, reflected and figured out what he calls the “habit loop.”
“How do you start diagnosing and then changing this behavior? By figuring out the habit loop. And the first step is to identify the routine,” writes Duhigg. “In this cookie scenario – as with most habits – the routine is the most obvious aspect: it’s the behavior you want to change. Your routine is that you get up from your desk in the afternoon, walk to the cafeteria, buy a chocolate chip cookie and eat it while chatting with friends.”
Duhigg figured out that the reward for his habit wasn’t the cookie, but chatting with friends and taking a break from work. After he figured this out, he substituted the cookie for more time chatting with his friends.
Basically, he replaced one (bad) habit with a different (good) habit. This lesson can be applied to many bad habits.
Note: it doesn’t matter how big or small the habit is, change takes time, perseverance, and commitment. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you’re serious it is possible.
The Point of Habits
You may be thinking “why would I want to change my habits?” That’s a great question! Entrepreneur gives three reasons why.
1. Challenge your norms: sure, living life without thinking about what we do is easy, but being complacent means you aren’t living up to your potential. Ask yourself honestly: is there anything I would like to change in my life?
2. Take control: we are more than the sum of our parts (or our habits). We can take control of our actions and our behaviors.
3. Achieve clearer self-awareness: thinking through our habits gives us insight into who we are and what we do. Know thyself—not just a saying, but an action!
We could list out 142 more reasons why habits matter, why you should form new ones and break old ones, etc. But instead, we’re just going to leave you with the words of a wise man whose insights are universally known and respected.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.”-Mahatma Gandhi