Habits Make You

In order to keep your New Year’s resolutions and make them stick, you must get rid of bad habits (like eating the wrong things) while replacing them with new, better habits (like exercising.)

To successfully keep your New Year’s Resolutions you must:

  • Repeat
  • Reward
  • Replace

Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have to take months to change a bad habit. You can change it immediately once you understand how a habit works.

You are in control of your mind and you are in control of your habits.

Practice

I started taking piano lessons at age 9. Every day for an hour after school, I had to practice. Each year I memorized a classical piece for the recital and for the piano competition. Each year I earned a blue ribbon.

The only problem – I loathed every minute of it. By the time I was 15, I convinced my parents to allow me to quit taking lessons. I haven’t played since.

Today, I can barely find middle C, let alone play Mozart. Why?

Practicing the piano formed a habit that was broken by not playing. The habits formed in my fingers were no longer habits.

All habits work the same way.

When you do a new activity, the conscious mind is in control. Tiny chemical threads called neuropaths map out the steps in your brain needed to complete this behavior.

Each time you repeat this activity (practice), you add a strand to the neuropath.

Eventually, the pathway becomes so strong that it bypasses your conscious and you perform the task without thinking. This is learning and learning becomes a habit.

Once you stop using the neuropaths, they break down and eventually you “forget.” This is why I can no longer play the piano.

Why we have habits

Our conscious mind can only handle a few tasks at a time. It is not very good at multitasking.

Habits are shortcuts to repeat behavior that free up the conscious for learning new things.

Habits do not look for EXACT experiences; however, they look for SIMILAR experiences. For instance, you do not have to learn how to open a new door because you have opened similar doors in the past. The new door is similar to other doors that you have opened, therefore the habitual behavior is associated with the new situation.

Habits were designed to help us. They simplify our lives.

But, as we all know, habits can also be destructive.

To live a better, happier life, we must learn to break bad habits and create good habits.

Repeat

The more times you repeat a behavior, the more strands form on the neuropath; the stronger the neuropath, the stronger the habit.

Habit, therefore is a function of how many times you repeat a behavior, not how many days you repeat it.

If I practiced the piano only ½ hour per day, it would have taken me twice as long to learn a song than if I spent 1 hour per day practicing. Likewise, a 2 hour practice session would have given the same results in half the time.

The phrase “practice makes perfect,” is the key. Be careful, though. After a while, fatigue will set in and performance will actually begin to suffer. Give yourself some rest; then pick up where you left off.

To quickly form a new, good habit, practice, practice, practice.

To stop a bad habit, stop yourself IMMEDIATELY when you catch yourself doing it. This will break down the neuropaths and eventually break the habit.

Reward

Practice is only part of the equation, however. In order to practice any behavior, you must be motivated to form a new habit. You must want to change and it must be your idea.

The desire for change must, therefore, begin in your mind.

Our subconscious mind will seek pleasure and avoid pain.

In order to create a new habit, we must attach INTENSE emotional pleasure to the new habit and INTENSE emotional pain to the old. You learned the techniques for accomplishing this last week.

The subconscious will continue to strive to achieve rewards.

By rewarding ourselves we encourage ourselves to practice the new desired behavior. We will practice more and create a habit faster.

Yesterday I posted about how constructive motivation is more effective than restrictive. You should reward yourself for the little things.

In my piano playing days, I knew that I would be permitted to watch TV or play once I completed my lessons, so I practiced right away without stalling.

Punishment however does have a role in breaking habits.

Think of a toddler and a hot stove. You can tell them NO a thousand times. You can reward them when they don’t go near the stove. You can distract them. But that toddler need only touch the stove once and the habit of going near the stove is broken instantly. (Put a baby gate across the kitchen door to protect those precious little fingers.)

Our need to avoid pain is stronger than our need to seek pleasure. In a tie, pain always wins.

Replace

Have you ever successfully broken a habit for a long period of time only to go back to it with a vengeance once you “fall off the wagon?” It seems that once you go back to the habit, it becomes twice as bad as it was before you broke it.

Why does this happen?

Merely getting rid of an old habit is not enough. It’s like digging a hole in your daily life.

To successfully get rid of an old habit, you must replace it with something even better. You must overfill the hole with something even MORE fun.

Instead of overeating, learn to ride a horse or scuba dive, or my favorite – dance.

Whatever the replacement, it must be YOUR idea or it won’t work. External pressure never works. Find something new and good for you to love.

Your New Year’s resolution is simply a matter of habits. Form a habit of repeat, reward, replace and you will succeed at keeping all of your 2012 resolutions for life.

Related posts:

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What habits are you trying to form or break?

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About living4bliss

Mental Health Food is the place to stop to get your bliss on everyday. I give tips, hints and sometimes a little silliness to help you navigate the challenges of life. We have a great community of positive bloggers that keep the bliss going all day every day. Make sure to visit their blogs, too. Mental Health Food is a product of Believing Life Is Setup for Success, Inc. (B.L.I.S.S.) in Thornton, CO. We have been in the business of teaching success since 1991. We provide workshops, consulting services and now videos that help people just like you start and maintain successful businesses and personal lives using what you already have. Enjoy a daily dose of Mental Health Food; nourishment for the mind.

4 responses »

  1. I always think of habits like our own “autopilot.” It’s so much easier to set an intentional path from the outset than to try to alter the course. As much as possible, I try to be deliberate in the habits I set. However, unexpected encounters can easily lead to unintended habits being developed. I’m not sure what is harder here – identifying the habit, or changing it.

    I like the simplicity of the 3 steps, especially the emphasis on replacement. I see too many people fall into the trap of reverting to an old, unwanted habit in times of stress because they didn’t consciously plan a replacement beforehand.

    • living4bliss says:

      You may be too young to remember this, but there was a TV show named Kojak. Telly Savalas, the main character sucked on a tootsie pop during the entire show because he quit smoking.

      The drawback to replacement is that I see many smokers replace cigarettes with food and then develop a weight problem (which is probably just as unhealthy.)

  2. Great post. I believe in order to change your behavior you must focus on the wants (as to why you’re seeking change) and the positive rewards.

    Instead of saying I will no longer eat junk food, focus on creating a menu full of fruits and vegetables. It’s all in how we change our minds.

    You mentioned great points!

    • living4bliss says:

      Thanks for the kudos.

      I have been reading your great blog regularly and it works with money discipline really well.

      I just finished teaching a course in personal finance and used these techniques to teach my students how to create an emergency fund. Instead of focusing on what they had to give up in order to save, we focused on the peace of mind they would get from the savings.

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