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Want To Change A Habit Permanently? Do These 7 Things

Want To Change A Habit Permanently? Do These 7 Things
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It takes commitment to achieve anything significant in life. You are unstoppable when you show a serious commitment to achieving your goals, but some habits have the ability to hinder commitment in serious ways. However, positive habits can do just the opposite and should be developed as much as possible.

Your habits are the fuel for peak performance. They also determine the state of your inner peace and overall prosperity. Getting rid of negative habits and developing new, positive ones will decrease your stress, increase productivity, and help you lead a healthier, more successful life.

How to Change a Habit Permanently

In order to change a habit permanently, you must focus on the process needed to achieve the desired results. If you focus on this process and the steps shared below, you can break bad habits, start positive ones, and achieve your goals.

1. Pinpoint Habits You Want to Change

It is not enough to have some bad behaviors. You must also understand the process and what it takes to change those habits permanently. No wonder Robert Taibbi, a certified clinical social worker, affirms that:

“You need to prime the habit-breaking process by thinking in terms of specific, doable behaviors —like not dumping your shoes in the living room but putting them in your closet…Drill down on the concrete.”[1]

Specificity is key here. Identifying specific habits instead of general behaviors will help you work more quickly toward change, allowing you to hit your target instead of wasting time.

2. Pay a Fine for Every Bad Habit

Fines can add up, and they can hurt. Paying $5 for a pack of cigarettes may not immediately feel like a fine, but changing your mindset can help you view it as a punishment to spend that money if you make a plan to put it toward something else.

Add up those fines and see what they would cost over a lifetime.[2] This can help you begin to visualize all of the other things you can do with that money.

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Paying a self-imposed fine is one of the ways you can make bad habits painful. Perhaps, if you are willing to pay a monthly fee of $25 for a credit card, you can similarly fine yourself $10 to $15 at home for habits you fail to break. You can also request that an accountability partner charges you when you slip up.

3. Find Your Triggers

Most of the time, bad habits are fueled by stress and boredom. Locating the root cause can help you to change a habit or replace a bad one with something good.[3]

For example, if you have the habit of eating junk food when you are stressed, learn to recognize when your stress is starting to trigger that habit. Then, try to replace it with a positive habit such as practicing meditation, taking a walk, or moving through a couple of yoga poses.

4. Start by Making Tiny Changes

It takes time as well as a concerted effort to form new habits. It certainly is not a simple affair. You should not expect to break a bad habit overnight. You need to exercise patience and focus on taking small, clear steps.

For instance, you can cut down on your sugar intake by using low-fat milk instead of creamer while making your coffee. A dramatic adjustment, such as completely avoiding sugar may not work, but small and meaningful steps will yield results.

5. Practice Mindfulness

Meditation or mindful practice creates an awareness of what is happening and why. It is about seeing the impact of pursuing negative habits.

Habits are formed in the prefrontal cortex of your brain. This small region is in charge of which habit is switched on at a particular point in time. Neuroscientists at MIT discovered that while habits may have a deeper root in the brain, the planning center of the brain has what it takes to shut those habits off.[4]

Mindfulness practice can activate the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for planning, decision-making, and concentration. It can also shrink the right amygdala responsible for fear, as well as negative emotions. It is like practicing a skill, such as playing the piano. The more you play, the better you become.

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According to Judson Brewer in his Ted Talk,[5] your brain follows a routine — trigger, behavior, and reward.”

For example, smoking may help you get over an incident, you continue to engage in the behavior because it helps relieve stress, but your body receives the reward of pleasure and relief.

Brewer discovered that being curious and aware helped some of his study participants to realize that smoking tastes and smells gross. The prefrontal cortex understands the implication of bad habits, but this region goes offline when you are tense.

With mindfulness, you can activate this region to help you identify trigges, assess bad habits, and embrace good ones.

6. Change Your Environment

You cannot change a habit permanently by staying in an environment that nurtures the habit.

Habits include three parts:

A cue prompts your brain to follow a routine. This is followed by the actual performance and the reward that comes from going through the routine.

If you walk down the street and spot a cigarette shop (cue), you then walk over there to buy a pack. You start smoking it (routine), and immediately you derive the short-term pleasurable feeling (reward).

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If you want to stop smoking, you will need to stop walking down that street. Once you stop experiencing the cue by changing your environment, you can empower yourself to start forming new, beneficial habits.

7. Be Patient With Yourself

Nothing significant happens overnight, and that includes changing a habit. Thus, don’t be upset when it is taking a while to change a habit. Your brain needs more time to develop new connections and produce new behaviors.

Wait for the adjustment process to run the full cycle, and never give up while waiting to change those habits.

8. Practice Mental Scripting

You can change a habit by rewriting your mental scripts. Mental scripts can be defined as some set of behaviors or reactions to specific situations. It takes a concerted effort to change a habit.

Old scripts can include your past failures. They are established via continuous reinforcement or a repeated encounter. The possession of scripts does not validate that they are real. The fact that you failed yesterday does not mean you are going to fail today.[6]

How can you rewrite your scripts?
  1. Identify the old scripts. Look into your past and find the events and encounters that have informed your current perspective.
  2. Write down what script you want to replace. If you’re going to rewrite a script, you need to have the original scripts.
  3. Break down the script into chunks and tackle the first followed by the next.
  4. Establish a plan and the steps to achieve the plan.
  5. Act the script. Don’t waste time until you have a perfect plan; start from somewhere.

How Long Does It Take to Change a Habit?

There is no exact number to internalize a habit or to break bad habits. Several researchers have recommended several techniques and time frames for forming new habits.

The 21-Day Rule

This was popularized by the early work of Maxwell Maltz. Dr. Maltx was a plastic surgeon who sought to understand how people perceive themselves. He was also fascinated by the amount of time it took a patient to adjust after surgery.[7]

From his findings, he discovered an average individual would spend 21 days adjusting. Based on this information, several self-help experts have bought into the idea of changing habits within 21 days.

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Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at UCL, in collaboration with her team, also figured out how long it takes to change a habit.

According to their study, over 96 individuals were examined over 12 weeks. Each individual picked a new habit. Over the following 12 weeks, they reported on whether they exhibited the habit.

Some individuals picked some simple habits like drinking water with lunch. Others went for more tedious activities, such as running for 15 minutes in the evening.

In the end, the team discovered it was automatic for participants to activate new habits with a time frame. The truth is you will need between two to eight months to form new habits or break old ones according to Lally’s study.[8]

Conclusion

It takes commitment and consistency to follow through when you are trying to change a habit. Remember to focus more on the process than on the result. In this way, you can take small steps, enjoy the journey, and look forward to what waits for you at the end.

More Tips on Changing Habits

Featured photo credit: Natalia Figueredo via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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