What Are Habits and Why Do We Need Them?
Dictionary.com defines a habit as:
“an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary…”
Imagine that every day, when you woke up, you had to re-learn everything you needed to do in order to get to work. Would you ever get there? It would be like having amnesia of the worst kind. The list of things you do on autopilot now would take so much brain power that you’d fall asleep before you even got to your front door!
Luckily, our minds have a way to put many things on auto-pilot, and thus, possibly, conserving energy. This is good and bad. Good in the way of allowing us to do routine tasks with not much thought. Bad, as you’ll see when you practice mindfulness, in all the things that you do on auto-pilot that take you away from experiencing the present moment and truly experiencing life as it is.
For the purpose of this article though, we’ll just say that habits are useful, and that using habit to make practicing mindfulness routine, we can assure that we’ll practice every day, and thuse reap the many, many rewards.
How do We Form Habits?
The Habit Loop
According to Charles Duhigg, the author of “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”, there’s a habit loop that exists and allows us to form habit.
It’s basically this:
Cue -> Routine -> Reward
The Cue is the trigger that makes your brain go into auto-pilot and tells your brain
which habit to use. This can be an alarm clock, a driver cutting you off on the road, seeing an attractive person, smelling chocolate… anything really.
The Routine is the program that runs. You hear the alarm clock and hit snooze, or jump out of bed in a flurry. A driver cuts you off and you get angry and want revenge, or to “teach them a lesson”, which never works, by the way… Or you smell chocolate and go to a vending machine on auto-pilot.
The Reward is the thing that really drives your habit, good or bad. You hit snooze and feel better temporarily, but then have to inevitably rush when you are late. You get angry at another driver and act stupid yourself. You go to the vending machine and get your chocolate, and then load up on sugar and caffiene…
See how this works? It’s really simple, but it runs your life until you recognize the patterns and choose to consciously make changes.
The Secret to Making Habits Stick.
There are two main ways to make habits stick. The first, in my experience, that works like a charm is that of micro-comittments. These are very small things that you begin doing every day at a certain time. These things don’t get in your way, and they can lead to powerful habits.
For example, if you want to start meditating, set a time in the day where you are least busy. Then, give yourself a reminder, set a timer, and meditate for ONE minute. That’s IT. ONE MINUTE.
Stick to this for a week, and gradually increase the amount of time over months. This will be such a small change to your day that you’ll hardly notice, and as time goes on and you increase it, it will feel like a natural part of your day and you’ll be much more likely to do it as a habit. It’s magic, really!
The second has to do with changing a bad habit to a good one. That has to do with changing the reward, which we’ll discuss below.
How Can We Break Bad Habits?
Bad habits are habits because of the reward you get from doing that activity. In the case of relaxation, you might drink alcohol to calm your nervous system. This works very well, but oh man, the downside is crazy. Everything from dehydration to alcoholism, to drunk driving, hurting others, hurting yourself, your family, and even death of others and/or yourself. All because you wanted to relax quickly.
A better thing to do, barring any addiction, which is beyond the scope of this article, would be to change the thing you do to get relaxed. Instead of hitting the bottle when you are stressed, try meditation, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, or a host of other things that can calm you down just as well, without the negative consequences.
Or, instead of smelling chocolate and immediately running to the vending machine to get your reward, in this case the endorphin rush that sugar and caffiene give you, try a healthier form of chocolate with stevia or drink macha tea, which has caffiene but in a more timed-release way so you don’t crash. Better yet, do 20 jumping jacks. You’ll get a good rush.
See how this works? Here are 5 tricks to beat bad habits.
5 Tricks to Crack Bad Habits
Use mindfulness to become aware of what you are doing.
You’ll notice what you are doing moment to moment. This practice has a great benefit of discovering all the bad habits that you have and gives you an opportunity to better yourself in ways you can’t imagine right now.
Give Yourself Time
Don’t rush breaking bad habits. This will give you stress, and you’ll most likely then form other bad habits trying to avoid the pain of stress and fear of failure. Instead, go easy on yourself and give yourself some more time. Move slowly and use micro-comittments. Small steps yeild BIG Results.
Stop using habits for self-medication or justification for bad things.
We all have a tendency to want immediate fixes to our problems. We like our drinks and pills. Time is short and we need to solve our issues yesterday, right? Wrong, unfortunately…
Alcohol is not the best solution to stress. Chocolate is not the best way to get an endorphin rush. Getting even with an other driver rarely makes you feel satisfied, at least not long term, and can get you in heaps of trouble.
Tell people that you’re breaking a bad habit. It holds you accountable.
We love to solve our own problems behind closed doors, don’t we. We don’t want anyone to know that we have problems. Oh man, what would all the people on Facebook think if they knew that my life wasn’t as pwerfect as I post it to be?Telling other people will not only find you some great support, if you tell the right people, but it will also hold you accountable. You need that. Your ego hates to be wrong or to fail, especially in the eyes of others. This is powerful stuff. Share it with others and watch your success spike!
Go easier on yourself.
You’re human, like the rest of us. We are not infalliable. We ALL have our issues. Go easy on yourself. You’re just like the rest of us. Take comfort in that my friend 🙂
How to Start a New Habit
Make sure you really want to make that a habit.
How will the habit benefit you? Is it worth the time to invest, even if it’s just a little bit each day? These are things you should ask yourself before trying to form new habits.
Focus on making very small comittments in your life.
The micro-comittments thing really works. It’s non-intrusive and really makes habit forming much easier. You are much less apt to fail if all you are doing is altering a tiny part of each day doing your new habit. I do this for each new habit I want to have, and it works like gangbusters, seriously.
Give it a number or measure.
If you can’t measure something, you have no real idea if it’s working. That’s why the ONE MINUTE of meditation a day to begin with is effective. If you can stick to ONE minute, then you have a benchmark for your progress. Make sense?
Fix a time frame.
Give yourself a month to cement your one minute of meditation into your routine. Then, give yourself another couple of weeks to double that to two minutes, etc… This gives you a workable construct to use and increases your success rate. I sometimes take six months to do this all. I’m slow, but sometimes slow and steady wins the race. Remember your Aesop.
Give yourself rewards.
Rewards are the cornerstone of habits. If you enjoy something, it will become a habit. Not only that, but if you remember the habit loop from above, it will be a main driver for a new habit. The calm you’ll feel from meditation alone will reward enough, believe me.
Focus on ONE habit at a time.
Multitasking is dumb. I said it and will say it forevermore. Multitasking is dumb. It divides your attention and you end up half-assing things that could have been done better if you’d just paid attention to only what you were doing.
I’ve screwed up countless things thinking that I could multitask in my corporate life. It’s dumb, don’t do it. If you don’t have time to do something, make time later, or if it’s important, push off everything else until you get that one thing done.
ONE THING AT A TIME.
Focus on one thing at a time and watch how strong and powerful you get. Same with habits. One habit at a time. Don’t be dumb 😛
Plan out how you’re going to do it.
Things work better with a plan in place, even a small one. If you have something concrete and thought out in front of you, you’re much more likely to succeed at it. Plan out your new habit and what you’ll need to cement it into your life.
Get VERY specific.
Don’t just say, “I want to better myself.” This will get you nowhere. Instead, get specific. “I want to better myself by meditating every day.” Add the “by” and see what happens!
Use tools, courses, technology.
I’m a HUGE fan of courses, books, tools, etc… In fact, this article is inspired by an AWESOME course on Udemy that you can find here. I love technology and continuing education. As long as I apply what I learn, I find this stuff to be invaluable.
It’s there, use it.
Don’t be too hard on yourself.
You’re human. Own it, but don’t crush your spirit before you have a chance to take your first step. Go easy on yourself. If at first you don’t succeed, do, do again.
Hold yourself acountable.
Tell others you’re working on something, or deny yourself some reward if you miss doing something. That will keep your motivation high.
I’ve heard of people using punch-cards. They have a card, and divide it up. Then use a hole puncher to keep track of when they do something, either positive or negative. It’s a way of measuring, and will help you hold yourself accountable.
Just Do It.
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. A plan will keep lacking until ya get cracking. Go forth and make great habits.