“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle
Most of us have a habit we’d like to either adopt or drop. Whether it’s starting an exercise program or quitting smoking, changing habits is one of the most important skills you can learn, because in the process you essentially reshape your life and redefine who you are. That is a big deal!
Habits are behaviors that become automatic because they have been performed frequently in the past. This repetition creates a mental association between a situation—or trigger—and an action. Here are a few things you can do to help make a habit change stick.
- One at a time. No matter how much enthusiasm you might have for your goals, even taking on just two habits at once increases your odds of failure. You have a much greater chance at success if you focus on one habit at a time, for at least 60 or 90 days. Devote all of your energy to changing that one habit, and once it’s securely on autopilot, move on to your next goal.
- Ink the deal. Simply saying to yourself that you’re going to change isn’t enough. You have to write down your objective. Write a start date. Define what success looks like. If you’re not into the written word, consider making a vision board. The idea is to make the commitment seem tangible, and ideally something you can look at daily to help cement your resolve.
- Be accountable. If you want to be successful, it’s helpful to commit in a big way. That means tell the world about it. Notify your family, friends, co-workers…or find a support group online. Blogging is another great way to find accountability. When you blog (or even simply journal), as you write about what you’re learning, you also reflect on your patterns—which makes your insights about the habits and how you relate to them a much deeper experience.
- Brace yourself. The path to habit change is littered with obstacles, some of which may even make you want to quit. Make a plan for what you’ll do when you face a speed bump. For example, if you have a hard time eating in moderation when you dine out, think ahead. Look up the restaurant menu online and make your meal decision while you are feeling strong.
- Know your triggers. Every habit has at least one trigger—an event that immediately precedes the habit. When the trigger happens, the habit follows if it’s been ingrained strongly as a habit. For example, for some people, when they get up, they immediately turn on the teakettle or coffee pot, and then immediately do another habit after that. The habit-trigger bond is strengthened from lots of repetitions until it essentially becomes a routine. Some habits have more than one trigger; take some time to identify yours.
- No exceptions. It’s really easy to justify not completing your new habit (or falling into an old pattern that you’re trying to quit) by saying, “Just this once won’t hurt.” Unfortunately, it does. Because now you really don’t trust yourself to stick to your own promises. Catch yourself if you’re thinking about trying to justify an exception, and remember your motivations. Look at your vision board, read your written intention, check in with your accountability partners. That’s why you put them into place.
Changing habits creates a great opportunity to not only uplevel your life, but also to learn about yourself—and essentially what makes you tick—in the process. Through the process of adopting new patterns of behavior, you will be trained about what motivates you. You’ll gain insight into your urges and see firsthand how internal and external rewards inspire you—or don’t. And in that regard, habit change is an extremely worthwhile process, regardless of the outcome.