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.
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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.”
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. This can help you begin to visualize all of the other things you can do with that money.
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.
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.
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.
According to Judson Brewer in his Ted Talk, 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).
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.
How can you rewrite your scripts?
- Identify the old scripts. Look into your past and find the events and encounters that have informed your current perspective.
- Write down what script you want to replace. If you’re going to rewrite a script, you need to have the original scripts.
- Break down the script into chunks and tackle the first followed by the next.
- Establish a plan and the steps to achieve the plan.
- 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.
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.
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.
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
- 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick
- 13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away
- Habits and Motivation: Master Both for Big Results
Featured photo credit: Natalia Figueredo via unsplash.com
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