This next article come from a series of online videos called “This Way Up!” in which I looked at how we develop a habit. We often use these approaches in forming a good habit but, this same process is also good at developing the habits that we don’t want. Worse yet, we often don’t even realize that we are making a “bad” habit.
One of the first questions you can ask yourself is how. How did you develop whatever habit it is that you do? Now it might be that you have a candy bar every single day at lunch or that you have to have dessert every single night and that this habit is not having the desired effect any longer. But in that ability to create a habit, a habit that you don’t want, is also the ability to flip it around and focus it on something that you do. So, how do we develop a habit?
Well, the first key thing is is that it’s something that interests you or something that you know that you need to have, such as going to the gym or getting to bed on time. One of the things you can do to give yourself a little bit of motivation is to write out on a sheet of paper what it is that thing that you would like to make a habit. The more that we can define it, the more we can put it in the back of our mind and let it just sit there, the more likely it’ll be something we begin to move towards. This is a pre-contemplation when it comes to our levels of motivation and engagement. We want to start to just play around with how do we bring this into existence.
Then you can ask yourself a simple question. How will I do this? And then I’m going to ask you to stop thinking about it. Just put it off … In the mornings, sit there and say, how could I possibly put more physical activity into my day? And then go about the rest of your day. Just let it go, 24 hours. Try not to think too heavily of it. The next morning, look at the question and see if something doesn’t come up for you.
You can do this for as many days as you need to. What we’re actually utilizing is the unconscious mind. We’re letting that mind, that mind that gives you that eureka moment when you’re in the shower, when you’re shaving or when you’re driving to work. All of a sudden, you get these amazing ideas. We can take advantage of that, that unconscious mind by posing a question at the same time each morning and throwing it out there.
With that then, we need to begin to have consistency. There’ll be a moment, an emotional point where you actually move from being in the pre-contemplative and contemplative into the actual action, the implementation of what it is. These are the stages of change.
So we move from contemplation to action. And action is not as easy as it sounds. We basically have to commit to a particular value and pick a time. The exact same time every single day for the certain amount of time, period. No questions asked. Stick to the actions you wrote down for 28 to 35 days. Also – be sure to at some type of positive reinforcement, such as a day off, or a shirt you wanted or even just a “congratulations” from a friend, you can increase the likelihood that this new behavior will stick.
So for instance, if you pay attention to going to bed on time and you notice over the next week or two you tend to have more energy, you tend to not be so cranky, your level of anxiety comes down. That is a positive reinforcement loop. (be sure to notice the higher level of energy – that is your reinforcement) Please note that this same process also contributes to that candy bar at lunch and the dessert after dinner. All of these approaches actually have an effect on the brain. It feels good and we keep doing it. So we go back, we have that experience, we eat the candy bar, it feels good, we do it again. Or in the “better case” again, we get to sleep on time, we have more energy, we feel better and we do it again.
Another example can be seen in the gym. I’ve seen this so many times in working as a personal trainer and having clients focus on their arms. Why their arms? Well because the arm was one of the first places where they would actually notice a new cut or that they could actually lift groceries out of the back of their car with way less problems than they had before. (positive reinforcement!)
So to cultivate this habit then, you want to make sure that you’ve taken the time to think about it, contemplate it, put a plan together. Then we want to make sure that we do it consistently with action based upon our values. And finally, we want to make sure that we positively reinforce that loop so at the end of that 28 to 35 days, it’s stuck. It’ll now be permanent part of how your brain is structured because neurons that fire together, wire together. We want to take advantage of this and we want to do it with consciousness, awareness and focus.
So what’s going to be your habit? Write it down. Come up with a plan.
Pick a time and just do it.