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Published on March 12, 2020

Want To Change A Habit Permanently? Do These 7 Things

Want To Change A Habit Permanently? Do These 7 Things

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

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

Habits are hard to kill, and rightly so. They are a part and parcel of your personality traits and mold your character.

However, habits are not always something over-the-top and quirky enough to get noticed. Think of subtle habits like tapping fingers when you are nervous and humming songs while you drive. These are nothing but ingrained habits that you may not realize easily.

Just take a few minutes and think of something specific that you do all the time. You will notice how it has become a habit for you without any explicit realization. Everything you do on a daily basis starting with your morning routine, lunch preferences to exercise routines are all habits.

Habits mostly form from life experiences and certain observed behaviors, not all of them are healthy. Habitual smoking can be dangerous to your health. Similarly, a habit could also make you lose out on enjoying something to its best – like how some people just cannot stop swaying their bodies when delivering a speech.

Thus, there could be a few habits that you would want to change about yourself. But changing habits is not as easy as it seems.

In this article, you will learn why it isn’t easy to build new habits, and how to change habits.

What Makes It Hard To Change A Habit?

To want to change a particular habit means to change something very fundamental about your behavior.[1] Hence, it’s necessary to understand how habits actually form and why they are so difficult to actually get out of.

The Biology

Habits form in a place what we call the subconscious mind in our brain.[2]

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Our brains have two modes of operation. The first one is an automatic pilot kind of system that is fast and works on reflexes often. It is what we call the subconscious part. This is the part that is associated with everything that comes naturally to you.

The second mode is the conscious mode where every action and decision is well thought out and follows a controlled way of thinking.

A fine example to distinguish both would be to consider yourself learning to drive or play an instrument. For the first time you try learning, you think before every movement you make. But once you have got the hang of it, you might drive without applying much thought into it.

Both systems work together in our brains at all times. When a habit is formed, it moves from the conscious part to the subconscious making it difficult to control.

So, the key idea in deconstructing a habit is to go from the subconscious to the conscious.

Another thing you have to understand about habits is that they can be conscious or hidden.

Conscious habits are those that require active input from your side. For instance, if you stop setting your alarm in the morning, you will stop waking up at the same time.

Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that we do without realizing. These make up the majority of our habits and we wouldn’t even know them until someone pointed them out. So the first difficulty in breaking these habits is to actually identify them. As they are internalized, they need a lot of attention to detail for self-identification. That’s not all.

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Habits can be physical, social, and mental, energy-based and even be particular to productivity. Understanding them is necessary to know why they are difficult to break and what can be done about them.

The Psychology

Habits get engraved into our memories depending on the way we think, feel and act over a particular period of time. The procedural part of memory deals with habit formation and studies have observed that various types of conditioning of behavior could affect your habit formations.

Classical conditioning or pavlovian conditioning is when you start associating a memory with reality.[3] A dog that associates ringing bell to food will start salivating. The same external stimuli such as the sound of church bells can make a person want to pray.

Operant conditioning is when experience and the feelings associated with it form a habit.[4] By encouraging or discouraging an act, individuals could either make it a habit or stop doing it.

Observational learning is another way habits could take form. A child may start walking the same way their parent does.

What Can You Do To Change a Habit?

Sure, habits are hard to control but it is not impossible. With a few tips and hard-driven dedication, you can surely get over your nasty habits.

Here are some ways that make use of psychological findings to help you:

1. Identify Your Habits

As mentioned earlier, habits can be quite subtle and hidden from your view. You have to bring your subconscious habits to an aware state of mind. You could do it by self-observation or by asking your friends or family to point out the habit for your sake.

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2. Find out the Impact of Your Habit

Every habit produces an effect – either physical or mental. Find out what exactly it is doing to you. Does it help you relieve stress or does it give you some pain relief?

It could be anything simple. Sometimes biting your nails could be calming your nerves. Understanding the effect of a habit is necessary to control it.

3. Apply Logic

You don’t need to be force-fed with wisdom and advice to know what an unhealthy habit could do to you.

Late-night binge-watching just before an important presentation is not going to help you. Take a moment and apply your own wisdom and logic to control your seemingly nastily habits.

4. Choose an Alternative

As I said, every habit induces some feeling. So, it could be quite difficult to get over it unless you find something else that can replace it. It can be a simple non-harming new habit that you can cultivate to get over a bad habit.

Say you have the habit of banging your head hard when you are angry. That’s going to be bad for you. Instead, the next time you are angry, just take a deep breath and count to 10. Or maybe start imagining yourself on a luxury yacht. Just think of something that will work for you.

5. Remove Triggers

Get rid of items and situations that can trigger your bad habit.

Stay away from smoke breaks if you are trying to quit it. Remove all those candy bars from the fridge if you want to control your sweet cravings.

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6. Visualize Change

Our brains can be trained to forget a habit if we start visualizing the change. Serious visualization is retained and helps as a motivator in breaking the habit loop.

For instance, to replace your habit of waking up late, visualize yourself waking up early and enjoying the early morning jog every day. By continuing this, you would naturally feel better to wake up early and do your new hobby.

7. Avoid Negative Talks and Thinking

Just as how our brain is trained to accept a change in habit, continuous negative talk and thinking could hamper your efforts put into breaking a habit.

Believe you can get out of it and assert yourself the same.

Final Thoughts

Changing habits isn’t easy, so do not expect an overnight change!

Habits took a long time to form. It could take a while to completely break out of it. You will have to accept that sometimes you may falter in your efforts. Don’t let negativity seep in when it seems hard. Keep going at it slowly and steadily.

More About Changing Habits

Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com

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