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How to Build Good Habits

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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.

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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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Published on November 23, 2020

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

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How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

Your neighbors downstairs are playing loud music. Again. How do they not get tired of partying? And why do they choose songs with such a heavy downbeat that the glass in your cupboard is vibrating every two seconds? What can you do to get some peace that you deserve? What should you?

Human mind tends to go in circles whenever faced with a problem without a clear solution. It becomes easy to forget the big picture and get lost in anger and self-pity, wasting our precious time, energy and enthusiasm.

Would it not be nice if we always remembered to put things in perspective?

Would it not be more efficient to face all kinds of problems, from tiny annoyances to life-changing emergencies, with a calm demeanor, sharp focus and fearless determination to promptly take the most efficient action possible?

Alas, humans are not like that. All too often we let anxiety or greed get the best of us and make a rushed or shortsighted decision that we quickly come to regret. Other times, we spend weeks or months at an impasse, rehashing the exact same arguments, unable to accept the compromise required to move forward with any of the available options.

Buddhists talk about getting lost in the “small self.” In this state of mind, we literally forget the big picture and focus on the small one. We start taking our daily problems too personally and, paradoxically, becomes less capable of solving them in an efficient manner. And this is the opposite of big picture thinking.

Let me share with you a story related to big picture thinking…

In 1812, the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia.[1] After a decisive Battle of Borodino, the capture of Moscow and therefore Napoleon’s victory in the war seemed inevitable.

Unexpectedly, the Russian Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov made a highly controversial decision of retreating and allowing the French to capture Moscow. Much of the population had been evacuated taking supplies with them. The city itself was set on fire and large parts of it burned into the ground.

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After waiting in vain for Russia to capitulate, Napoleon had to retreat in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. He won the battle but lost the war. The campaign ended in a disaster and the near destruction of the French army.

What can we learn from this historical lesson?

1. Focus on the Consequences

Napoleon focused on the important part: capturing Moscow. Nobody could accuse him of thinking small. Yet he overlooked that the Russian army could still fight even after giving up the country’s most important city.

So was Moscow not an important target after all?

Success expert Brian Tracy has a litmus test: things are important to the extent that they have important consequences. Things are unimportant to the extent that they have no important consequences.[2]

When faced with a choice, ask yourself, what would be the consequences of each option?

  • Want to spend an hour studying or watching the new series on Netflix? What would be the consequences of each option? Netflix can sometimes be a better choice, but it helps to put things in perspective.
  • Want to maintain your apartment by yourself or to pay a cleaning service? Would would be the consequences of each option?
  • Want to meet up for coffee with this acquaintance of yours or catch up on your work instead? What would be the consequences of each option?

The choice can be different for different people. An aspiring filmmaker may have a legitimate reason for choosing Netflix. Personally, cleaning your own apartment can be relaxing and nourishing even if the economics of hiring a cleaner looks compelling because you are earning a high hourly rate.

This is where you will need a basic idea of who you are — what are your goals, values and aspirations.

2. Flip Defeat Into Victory

Kutuzov managed to turn Russia’s defeat into a historic victory by recasting the problem in a wider context: losing Moscow need not mean losing the war.

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Despite the symbolic meaning attached to the Kremlin, the churches, the priceless treasures that had been stored in the city for centuries, the outcome of the campaign was ultimately determined by the strength of the remaining armies.

If you can adopt this result-oriented perspective, many of your personal defeats may be flipped into victories as well. Few events in a human life are absolutely good or absolutely bad, and it usually takes many years to recognize in retrospect, what role a particular encounter did play in your story.

Therefore we have every reason to look for the good in the things that happen to us.

This is a very practical attitude, far from baseless “positive thinking.” After all, if something unfortunate has happened to you and you find good sides in this circumstance, you will then be better positioned to take advantage of those good sides.

Say your noisy neighbors are affecting your productivity. What if it is a blessing in disguise? How can you turn this defeat into a victory?

  • Perhaps you are too serious about life and could learn how to have more fun. Join your neighbors or go out for a walk instead of working;
  • Perhaps you only wanted to be productive while instead procrastinated on social media. Now that your procrastination has been interrupted, stop and acknowledge this much greater obstacle to your productivity;
  • Perhaps you are too sensitive to interference. Take this opportunity to practice ignoring the noise and doing your best anyway;
  • Perhaps you have a victim mentality and the feeling of unfairness drains you more than any actual nuisance your neighbors might have caused. Try accepting this lapse in your productivity the way you would accept bad weather.

Get used to finding opportunities in your problems. This is the quintessential big picture thinking.

3. Ask for Advice

Both Napoleon and Kutuzov had trusted advisers to discuss their affairs with. In general, getting a different perspective — or several — can only help inform your understanding and lead to better decisions. Just ensure that the people giving you advice are competent in the particular area where experience is needed.

Paying money for advice can also be a wise investment. Lawyers, tax accountants, medical doctors spend years learning how to assist people like yourself in living more successful, more fulfilling lives.

A quick legal consultation can save you a fortune down the line or even keep you out of big trouble. A medical check-up can uncover potential issues and help keep you healthy and active for years to come.

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Even big, complex dilemmas at your job or in your romantic relationship can be tackled more effectively by partnering up with a coach or a therapist or, of course, with the help of a wise friend.

4. Beware of Biased Advice

Many imperfect decisions occur in response to an imperfect piece of advice that you choose to act on. This advice often comes from a biased party.

For example, we are often encouraged to buy something that we supposedly need:

  • Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a special lotion.
  • Fortify your health by taking multivitamins.
  • Connect with your friends by sending them elaborate gifts.
  • Brighten your weekend by consuming a delicious pastry.
  • Become more productive by getting a faster computer.

However, most purchases are unnecessary.

Some, such as the sunscreen, do have legitimate benefits when used properly.[3] Others, such as multivitamins, only make a difference for a small group of people.[4]

Advertisers of those benefits inevitably want to narrow your focus in order to overstate the importance of their product. They frequently present it as the only solution to your problem, whether real or imaginary.

After all,

  • Skin can also be protected from the sun by wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Health can be better fortified by consuming a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Spending time or talking on the phone with your friends is the foremost way of connecting with them, and it is virtually free.
  • Your weekend can be brightened by doing something that you love.
  • You can become more productive by focusing on the tasks that have the most important consequences. A faster computer can, in fact, decrease productivity by making it easier to multitask and by enabling your favorite distractions.

There are other sources of imperfect advice. Politicians also frequently want us to focus on a particular “big picture,” to the exclusion of the alternatives.

Even loving parents can be guilty of the same. They can advise their children to pick a career path that is safe and respectable, based on their “big picture” that in life one has to make a living. A child may disagree, however, based on another “big picture” that one’s life has to have meaning and fulfillment.

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Bottom Line

It is human nature to make rushed, emotional decisions based on incomplete information, then regret those decisions later on.

You can protect yourself from poor judgment by striving to attain the big picture when careful consideration is called for.

Focus on the consequences of your decision before considering how you feel about it.

Play with the cards you’ve been dealt, but look for opportunities in each situation and you will find them.

Ask knowledgeable mentors for advice, but beware of biased people who have an opinion, but do not necessarily have your best interest in mind.

Yet remember, true big picture thinking comes from hard-won experience. Legendary military commanders Napoleon Bonaparte and Mikhail Kutuzov were both injured on the battlefield.

Clear thinking comes from putting your big picture to the test of reality.

More Tips on Thinking Clearly

Featured photo credit: Haneen Krimly via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wikipedia: French invasion of Russia
[2] Brian Tracy: No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
[3] American Academy of Dermatology: Say Yes to Sun Protection
[4] Harvard Medical School: Do multivitamins make you healthier?

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