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The Secret to Changing Habits Successfully

The Secret to Changing Habits Successfully

I bet you have some harmful habits that you would love to change. What are some of the things you wish you didn’t do? We all have habits that limit us, things we just can’t help doing and we swear we will never do again.  Nobody is perfect and everybody has limiting habits—some more than others—but we generally notice our harmful habits once they are already limiting us in some way and we find ourselves saying things like “I wish I could just be more…” or “I wish I didn’t always do that”, and then we simply move onto the next thought, and it is forgotten.

Have you considered how much of an influence your habits have on your life right now? Half your day consists of habits, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. Did you know that almost 40% of the actions you take every day are habitual? Meaning, you act automatically without really making active decisions; you just do. This happens because your brain needs to form habits in order to free up space for other important things. Imagine if you had to learn how to drive and brush your teeth every day; it wouldn’t be much fun would it?

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Over the years, you have likely picked up and developed many different habits, some good and some bad, and your habits lead to the results you have in your life right now. Are you happy with them? It is much easier to work towards changing your limiting habits now than to live with the consequences of them later. If you don’t change your habits, you keep reinforcing them, which makes it more difficult to change at a later stage.  To effectively change a habit, you need to understand how you are forming them and what makes a habit, a habit.

Let’s focus on habits that are the most difficult to change, like quitting cigarettes.

Studies have shown that there is a habit loop that we follow, which consists of the trigger, the habit and the reward. Studies have also shown us that after some time, the trigger and the reward become so closely associated that it causes uncontrollable cravings. Your body is immediately anticipating the reward the moment there is a trigger and this is why you might get highly irritated when you want a cigarette and you cannot have one.

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The habit loop:

1.     Trigger: This is what sets off the behavior; the habit as such. It can be anything from something emotional, to situational, or even environmental. For example, wanting a cigarette after a stressful situation, or whenever you have a drink in your hand, or being with a certain friend. We all have different triggers, some obvious and some less obvious.

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2.     Habit: This is the way you behave, the set of actions you take, and can be emotional or physical. In this example, we have used smoking, but habitual behavior can relate to anything from the way you think, to what you do, to how you would feel.

3.     Reward: Of course, this relates to the benefits, the satisfaction you get, there is always a reward. Sometimes the reward might not be obvious to us when the negative consequences of the habit are very apparent, however, there is always a reward., otherwise you wouldn’t do what you do.

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Research has also revealed that the best and most effective way to change a habit is to change the routine. Most of us try to change the trigger, but this has proven not to be as successful. For smokers, it is too hard to avoid certain friends, situations or ignore the craving after a meal. Instead, changing the behavior for one which gives the same rewards is key.

  • First you must identify the triggers and the rewards.
  • Then think about what else can you do (the habit) to give you the same reward? For example, imagine the reward is that you feel lighter, less full after eating or that smoking calms you down when you are angry. Think about other things that can give you the same effect. You will need to test your new routine, think about what will give you the same reward and try it, if it doesn’t work, think of something else.
  • Keep doing this until you find the “new habit/behavior” that gives you the same reward.

To do this, you need to invest your time in identifying these triggers and rewards. The point or extent to which you identify the rewards and triggers correctly, will actually determine the extent of your success in changing this.

Here are some helpful tools to assist with change:

  1. You must believe that change is possible. Having belief in only those things that you can see, is not belief.
  2. Take consistent action, don’t give up after one attempt, then try again a month later—consistency is key.
  3. Focus on the reasons why you are doing this and don’t stay focused on how hard and difficult it is to change.
  4. Be aware of homeostasis, this is your subconscious natural resistance to change. We all have a natural tendency to want to go back to balance and away from change. Our bodies perceive change as threatening, even if it completely the opposite.
  5. Listen to your own excuses and dispute them. To dispute them, argue with yourself rationally.
  6. Keep it simple, don’t try to change more than one habit at a time. Rather put your energy on changing one habit successfully and then moving onto the next one. When you are able to change one habit, you will feel more confident in your ability to change more.
  7. Be aware of your potential obstacles and challenges and prepare for them. We all know what normally gets in our way when changing a habit. Perhaps procrastination, distractions or lack of motivation. Whatever it is, you will be more successful in overcoming your obstacles when you have a plan of how you will do it.
  8. Put structures up. Structures are reminders to help you to remember to take action on what is important. Structures will only be effective if they are visible. Examples are putting up motivational post its or wearing a string around your wrist, to putting reminders on your email with notifications to leaving a chair in front of your door as a reminder. Whatever works best for you.

If our habits make up such a big part of our life, then what we most often do, shapes our reality and our world. You have the ability to create the life that you want, to get the results you desire. Always finding excuses why your life isn’t the way you want it, might be the first habit you need to break!

 “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

More by this author

Kirstin O´Donovan

Certified Life and Productivity Coach, Founder and CEO of TopResultsCoaching

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How to Be Productive: 11 Ways to Be Productive and Happy at Once

How to Be Productive: 11 Ways to Be Productive and Happy at Once

A lack of productivity leads to a lack of happiness.

When you can’t see yourself making progress or getting things done, you get anxious and become stressful.

There are also tons of things that contribute to unhappiness here too: Facebook notifications, emails, texts, and chatty co-workers are just a small fraction of the disruptions we’re bombarded with. These “little things” can stack up fast and lead to hampering your happiness and productivity levels.

Learn how to be productive with the 11 tips below and reclaim your everyday productivity and your happiness, once and for all.

1. Be happy now

Life is too short. No matter what you’re doing or where you are, be happy now. Start by finding something to be grateful for; everyone has at least one thing to be grateful for.

Most of the world still has trouble getting access to clean drinking water… yhat means you can even be grateful for that bottle of Aquafina you’ve got on your desk right now.

2. Finish your day before it starts

Proper planning is the secret to peak productivity, and it’s also a good idea to set daily goals. Get yourself a planning tool and prioritize your daily tasks with it.

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Here’s a smart technique on planning and prioritization: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

3. Celebrate the small wins

Every time you check off a task from your to-do list, you release a “happy chemical” in your brain called dopamine. This gives you the motivation to move forward and do even more.

For example, after I finish writing this article and I’ve crossed it off my list of things to do today, I’ll get a nice burst of “happy chemicals” releasing in my brain. The best part? Zero side effects!

Learn from here: How To Celebrate Small Wins To Achieve Big Goals

4. Leverage like there’s no tomorrow

Look for ways to use the good old 80/20 rule by identifying tasks that you might be able to outsource or leverage out to a virtual assistant.

Stop wasting time doing things that don’t challenge you or ignite your passion. Hire out or automate anything and everything within your means.

Check out this guide to find out how to start to delegate: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

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5. Recharge your batteries

Figure out how many hours of sleep your body needs and make sure you get it. Take time to stretch, walk, or relax—you’ll be glad you did.

Here’re some simple ways to relax completely and get rid of stress.

6. Become an early riser

This is one of the most underused productivity “hacks” on the planet. Ever since I decided to start waking up at 5am every day, my productivity levels and happiness have gone up dramatically.

Most people aren’t up that early, so no one can bother you or disrupt you from what you want to do. Use this time to exercise, meditate, or to get a head start on your day.

Not sure how to wake up earlier? Here are 11 Ways To Become an Early Riser Like Most Successful People Do.

7. Do work you’re passionate about

Make it your goal to blur the line between work and play by doing more things you’re passionate about. This promotes happiness both inside and outside of the workplace.

Find what you’re passionate about and do it, or learn how to enjoy what you do with these tips: How to Enjoy What You Are Doing No Matter What

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8. Use time blocks

For example, when I wrote this article, I gave myself a one hour time block. This prevents unnecessary dilly-dallying like updating your Facebook status and checking email.

Use an app like Alarmed to keep you on track.  Here’s a snapshot of the app from my iPhone.

    9. Avoid interruptions

    Interruptions are among the biggest barriers to both productivity and happiness. Every time you’re interrupted in the middle of a task your level of productivity takes a hit.

    We’ve all been there: you’re fully immersed in an important project until all of a sudden the workplace chatterbox appears out of nowhere and starts talking about stuff that doesn’t matter. By the time she’s gone, you’ve already forgotten where you were and it takes 30 minutes to get back on track.

    Avoid this by letting people know that you’ve got important work that’s got to be done.

    Learn more about how to stay focus in this guide: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

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    10. Shut down the digital disruptions

    iPhones, mailbox notifications, twitter, facebook, and everything that pops, slides, or fades in and out of your screen has got to go. Shut them down and focus.

    It’s as easy as turning off the notifications or scheduling only a specific time to check all these notifications and texts.

    11. Measure your success

    Every now and then, it’s a good idea to measure your results and see how things are coming along.

    How’s your progress? Are you pacing in the right direction? Are things getting better? Worse? It’s always a good idea to track your progress regularly.

    With an app like Rescue Time, you can easily keep track of the time you spend throughout the day. It helps you to find out how much time you’re really on-task and so you can review your progress.

      With these 11 effective ways to improve productivity, you will get more things done timely and become happier.

      Start small and take up each suggestion one by one, you can boost your productivity and create your happiness too.

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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