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How to Build Good Habits

How to Build Good Habits

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

The question is – how do you develop good habits and make them stick?

The reason we often stop ourselves from changing is that we like to stay where we are. Call it inertia or what you may want, but you need to give yourself a push to get things started.

To be successful, do more in life and have a sense of fulfillment, you need good habits. And it doesn’t come easy.

You may hear some people say that doing something for 21 days will make it a habit. In all honesty, this does not work. To build good habits, you need motivation, a good plan and a thought out approach to follow it.

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Here are the five tips that will work for you.

1. Planning

Benjamin Franklin had a very innovative plan to overcome his bad habits and build new good habits.

He listed 13 virtues which he felt were very useful in his life. He stated that working on each of them in a 13 week period, one virtue per week, can deliver some great results.

If he felt that he had got over his bad habit, he proceeded on the next one; if not, he repeated the cycle again.

While spontaneity is the essence of an adventurous spirit, it doesn’t apply when you are embarking on adapting to a new habit. You need a properly planned approach for the practice to become a habit. Here is the approach that can work for you.

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  1. Set yourself a “goal” that you want to achieve someday. Keep in mind that your goal should be specific, realistic, achievable and time-bound.
  2. Identify the habits that will help you in realizing your goals and that are in-sync with your already existing habits.
  3. Try to select a habit that suits your already established day-to-day life, so that it’s easier to adapt.
  4. Find your motivation to complete the goal. Motivation is what should get you started, and habits are what should keep you going.

2. Micro Quotas and Major Goals

Everyone has heard the motto “slow and steady wins the race”. Setting goals that you can stick to and introducing them in your everyday life will not result in any sudden or drastic changes in your life. It will definitely reap benefits over time.

Creating the right intrinsic motivators is important. You don’t want to do something because you are being punished or rewarded for it. Instead, you want to do it because you want it yourself.

Imagine that you have decided to lose weight and made a decision to run 5 miles every day in the morning. Now, imagine that you made the decision solely under the pressure of your loved ones. The plan has failed even before starting.

Set goals and quotas to guide you. Here is how it can work.

  • Goals are the ultimate achievement you want to accomplish, like topping the class.
  • Quotas are the small steps you have to take each day to realize that goal, like doing your homework regularly.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you make unrealistic goals and are unable to achieve them, it leaves you disheartened and have a negative impact.

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3. Be Positive

Ask how you can do something rather than say it cannot be done. You need positive thoughts to help you build on your skills and do more.

Having positive thoughts does not only result in moments of happiness but they enhance our capability to develop good habits and acquire skill sets which will help later in life. Focus only on the present and try not to dwell in the past.

Often, the things that you end up worrying about for days may not even happen at all. Even if they do, you probably cannot do anything about it – so why bother to ruin the present? We all are going to die, but that doesn’t mean you should ruin your life for it. Minimize your worries and let go of the negative emotions.

4. Eliminate Excessive Options

Have you ever wondered why Barack Obama prefers to wear only black and blue suits and not any other colour? There’s a good reason behind it.

Identify those aspects of your life which are mundane and are not resulting in any satisfaction. It has been observed in a 1990s study by Roy Baumeister, who was a professor at Florida State University, that making repeated choices can stop you from making smart decisions, even if the choices that you make aren’t that taxing by themselves.

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5. Find healthy ways to reward yourself

Remember those days when mom used to give you a candy to complete your homework? Of course, you do. Didn’t the thought of getting an extra candy gave us the strength to even face demons of maths problems? What if we apply the same principle when building good habits?

Bad habits are developed initially because they make us feel good, even its for a short period of time. We cling to that feeling of happiness thinking it soothes us when we are going through a stressful or frustrating time or just plain out of sorts.

For example, you have decided to start on a health regime, but it’s just not your day today, so you overeat to compensate for the day’s problems, which will result in you feeling sad next day. The same goes for smoking or drinking too much.

You feel relaxed and at peace, when realization dawns you vow to stop doing the act soon. But the vow slips off your mind when the next bad day comes around. Break this continuous cycle; reward yourself when you achieve even small victories over your bad habits. Treat yourself to what you like. It could be anything from a new book to a movie, to perhaps even your favourite game.

Invest in having the mental energy you need to commit to new habits. Positive habits aren’t formed overnight, but are a gradual change. It’s a change that will help you relive your life, and forget the past for a better present and future.

Featured photo credit: https://www.personalexcellence.co/files/yoga-sunrise.jpg via personalexcellence.co

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Carles Sabarich

Carles aspires to encourage people to live actively and take charge of their lives.

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Last Updated on June 6, 2019

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

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     A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

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    The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

    “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

    In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

    The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

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      A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

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      Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

      “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

      When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

      The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

      As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

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      “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

      Silence relieves stress and tension.

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        It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

        A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

        “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

        Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

        Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

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          The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

          Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

          But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

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          Summation

          Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

          Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

          Reference

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