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Last Updated on November 12, 2017

You Are 7 Steps Away From Making A Habit Last

You Are 7 Steps Away From Making A Habit Last

Habits are the little things we do repeatedly, often subconsciously. They end up shaping our lives. Day after day, they make us who we are. Eat healthy and you get slim, exercise and you get fit, read and you get smart, etc.

“Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” – Mahatma Ghandi

      Building habits is arguably the most impactful skill we can acquire in life. Can you imagine that 16 million deaths could be avoided every year by simple habit change? It is hard though to break old habits and form new ones. People seem to believe that they can transform their lives by simply making a wish when comes the New Year. But 92% of these resolutions fail.[1] Could it be that modern life makes us lazy? In our on-demand society, food gets delivered to our place in 10 minutes. We have a taxi waiting at our door 30 seconds after we ask for it. Everything has to go fast. We don’t accept that certain things take time and give up easily when we face challenges.

      Let me tell you the ugly truth: forming habits does take time and it requires efforts. It’s not going to happen just by hoping for it. It’s not going to work if you are not genuinely prepared to change. And there will be obstacles on your way. You can try and reject this ugly truth. It’s up to you. You then risk to get stuck in your old ways and fail to build the life you want. New Year after New Year, you will be making the same resolutions over and over again. In 10 years from now, those who don’t change their poor eating habits will be obese. Those who fail to introduce regular exercise in their life will be unfit. And those with bad financial habits will be poor.

      As a teenager, I went through a deep crisis which left my life as a mess. I had to reprogram myself and rebuild my life habit after habit. That’s when I realized that we can become the architects of our lives. Over the years, I refined my approach to setting goals and building habits. It has been my passion for 20 years now. And it has helped me live a dense and meaningful life. Here are a few examples:

      • I have written more than a 100 songs while I’m not a particularly gifted musician.
      • I represented France in the 2015 ITU Triathlon World Championships while I am not the most athletic person.
      • I have launched a promising startup called GOALMAP while I am not very business savvy.
      • I have also gathered the biggest dream journal in the world (I’m getting close to 10,000 dreams)!

      This was all thanks to habits. When you are able to form habits, you can steer your life in the direction you want. If you are keen to try this approach for yourself, you can follow this step-by-step guide.

      1. Assess your readiness for change

      According to James O. Prochaska’s transtheoretical model of behavior change, there are 6 stages involved in changing:[2]

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      • Pre-contemplation: People at this stage do not intend to start the healthy behavior in the near future (within 6 months), and may be unaware of the need to change.
      • Contemplation: People at this stage intend to start the healthy behavior within 6 months.
      • Preparation: People at this intend to start the healthy behavior within the next 30 days.
      • Action: People at this stage have changed their behavior within the last 6 months.
      • Maintenance: People at this stage have changed their behavior more than 6 months ago.
      • Termination: The new behavior is ingrained, no risk to relapse.

      If you jump straight into the action phase while you are not yet ready for it, you are most likely to relapse. In order to progress through the stages of change, you need:

      • A growing awareness that the advantages (the “pros”) of changing outweigh the disadvantages (the “cons”).
      • Confidence that you can maintain changes in situations that tempt you to return to your old, unhealthy behavior.
      • Strategies that can help you make and maintain change. These strategies are called the “processes of change”. Different strategies work best for different stages.

      Don’t put the cart before the horse. If you are not mentally prepared to change, any effort you make will be counterproductive. If you realize that you do not intend to start a new habit right now, try and figure in which stage you are and apply the “processes of change” which are most relevant for that phase.

      If you are keen to find out more, I recommend you read Changing to Thrive by James O. Prochaska. If you are ready for change, keep reading!

      2. Have a grand vision for your life

        Make sure that the habits you decide to work on are aligned with your personal values and the long-term vision you have for life. If there is no deeper meaning in the things you do, you might find it hard to make them stick.

        Before rushing headlong, dig inside of you and get in touch with the powerful vision beyond your desire to change. If you have aspirations such as eating healthy or exercising, what is your vision beyond these goals? Maybe a vision of yourself in good health, fit, slim and happy… Take a moment to visualize the person you aspire to build.

        With this vision in mind, you can see meaning in everything you do. After all, why would you put your sneakers on and go for a run rather than watching a TV series? The sofa might be more tempting than the effort! But get back to your vision and the choice will come effortlessly. When your vision is anchored deeply, it is easy to light it up. The closer the vision is to your heart, the stronger it will be, and the more easily you will push through the obstacles. Get back to your vision, when you fail or when you succeed – it will show you the way.

        3. Start small

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          When we think about changing our life, we are tempted to change everything at once and come up with a bucket list of 20 things to work on at the same time. It’s so exciting! It rarely works though. If we try to do too much, we soon feel overwhelmed. Chances are great that we will give up.

          This doesn’t mean you have to focus on a single habit. Actually, taking action on one behavior increases the odds of taking action on a second behavior. This is called “coaction”. Start with the top 2 to 4 habits you want to build.

          Don’t set the bar too high at the beginning. When you get on a bike, you should start with an easy gear, and shift up gears as you build speed. It’s all about momentum.

          4. Make a plan

          You need to plan how you are going to weave the new behavior into your life. For a habit to stick, it has to become part of your routine. You need to turn it into some sort of automatic process. The key to building a habit is repetition. Try and build a ritual: same day, same time, same place, etc.

          Make sure you have the basic questions answered in advance: When will you do it? Where? How? With whom?

          If you want to exercise more regularly, you have to plan how this is going to happen. Which sport? Which days of the week? Will you go straight after work? Then you need to take your gear with you. Do you have all the equipment you need? If not, go get it. Do you have a friend who could go with you and become your motivation partner?

          B.J. Fogg, a psychologist and researcher at Stanford University who has studied behavior change for more than 20 years, has a great trick: attaching the new behavior to an existing one. For that, use “after”: after I wake up, I meditate for 10 minutes; after I get back from work, I do 10 push-ups; after I finish my breakfast, I take vitamins, etc.

          5. Set goals

          If your aspiration to change remains too vague, you are likely to fail. Set instead proper goals for the habits you want to build. These goals must be S.M.A.R.T.: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound.

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          Have clear, quantified targets. Instead of “drinking more water”, set a goal to “drink at least 2 liters a day”. Instead of “playing music again”, set a goal to “play the piano 20 minutes per day”.

          Set daily goals wherever possible. If you do something every day, it becomes much easier to make it stick. Let’s imagine for instance that you want to read more. You have more chances to make it a habit with a daily goal (20 minutes) than a weekly one (2 hours).

          Read more about how to set yourself the right goals in my other article Why I Can Be the Only 8% of People Who Reach the Goal Every Single Time

          6. Track your progress

            A study of nearly 1,700 participants in a weight-loss program showed that those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records.[3] Tracking fosters self-awareness. When you understand yourself better, it becomes much easier to change.

            “That which is measured improves.” – Karl Pearson

            Track your progress in a systematic fashion, not just in your head. You can use a piece of paper, an Excel spreadsheet, an app, etc. Make it simple to update and easy to access.

            7. Analyze your progress and adjust your habits

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              Your habits are not meant to be cast in stone. We said earlier we have to start small. Then, as we gather momentum, we can add another habit, or raise the bar higher.

              On the other hand, when we go through tough times, we can momentarily revise our ambitions down and avoid hitting the wall. That’s part of the journey. You shouldn’t judge yourself. Stay flexible, shift to a lower gear and your habits will pick you up.

              With quantified targets, you can easily keep track of your progress against the goals you had set. It is then time to take a step back, draw conclusions and reset your habits. Here are a few examples:

              • Add: “I started with two habits, drinking water and going to bed early. I’m now fairly comfortable with those two. It’s time to add regular exercise to my routine.”
              • Adjust down: “Running three times a week was too ambitious. I manage to go once a week, two sometimes. I’ll change my target to twice a week instead and build up from there.”
              • Adjust up: “I have consistently hit my target of reading two hours per week. I enjoyed reading that much and learned a lot. Let’s increase the target to two and a half hours.”
              • Stop tracking: “I used to drink too much coffee some days when I hadn’t slept enough the previous night but over time I managed to ingrain a new habit. I don’t drink more than two cups a day anymore.”
              • Replace: “I liked the idea of practicing martial arts but I fail on this goal week after week. I realize that I don’t enjoy the process as much as I liked the idea. It’s time to switch to another sport.”

              Try and do such a review of your habits at least every other month. It will help you adjust your trajectory over time.

              Forget about the magic potion

                Rome wasn’t built in a day, I know it’s cliché but it’s always true. There really is no shortcut to a happy and fulfilled life. One has to be persistent, and walk day after day. It’s incredible how far we can get when we walk in the same direction without stopping, even at a gentle pace.

                Forming habits definitely requires effort, especially at the beginning as you have to overcome inertia. Please keep fighting. If you don’t fight, you run the risk of going through life without really living.

                Make this effort, focus on repetition, and day after day it will get easier. The habit of doing will replace the habit of not doing. It’s challenging to get started, but it’s also difficult to stop once you get started.

                Featured photo credit: Picjumbo via picjumbo.com

                Reference

                More by this author

                Damien Catani

                Founder at GOALMAP

                You Are 7 Steps Away From Making A Habit Last Why I Can Be the Only 8% of People Who Reach the Goal Every Single Time How I Bounced Back From a Fiasco

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                Last Updated on September 20, 2018

                8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

                8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

                You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

                Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

                When you train your brain, you will:

                • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
                • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
                • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

                So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

                1. Work your memory

                Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

                When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

                If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

                The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

                Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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                Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

                What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

                For example, say you just met someone new:

                “Hi, my name is George”

                Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

                Got it? Good.

                2. Do something different repeatedly

                By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

                Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

                It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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                And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

                But how does this apply to your life right now?

                Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

                Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

                Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

                So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

                You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

                That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

                3. Learn something new

                It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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                For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

                Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

                You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

                4. Follow a brain training program

                The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

                5. Work your body

                You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

                Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

                Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

                Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

                6. Spend time with your loved ones

                If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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                If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

                I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

                7. Avoid crossword puzzles

                Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

                Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

                Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

                8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

                Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

                When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

                So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

                The bottom line

                Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

                Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

                Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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