October 27, 2008 by Kevin Ngo
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
How do you make doing something continually look easy? Using willpower to force yourself to do something will only last for so long. Motivation, willpower, self-discipline, these things are just tools to help you take the desired action, but they require constant effort and work.
So what’s the answer? By developing habits that make your actions automatic. The goal is to get yourself to do something long enough until it becomes a habit. Once it becomes a habit, you don’t have to put much effort into it anymore. It’ll almost be automatic, and that’s the beauty of creating habits that align with your goals and dreams.
In this post about developing habits, I will mainly focus on creating new empowering habits opposed to how to break old disempowering ones. First, let’s take a look at how habits are formed.
Why We Form Bad Habits
If you think about it, habits are relatively simple to develop. Look at all the habits you don’t like. Now let me ask you, did you have to work hard at developing the habit of overeating or watching too much TV, or sleeping too much, or smoking? Of course not. You just did it long enough, through repitition, until it became a habit. Why did you keep doing it though?
If you examine your undesirable habits closely, you will find that they all have something in common. They all give you some type of feeling that is rewarding to you. Why do people spend hours watching mindless television? Why do people who smoke smoke? They do it because it gives them a certain feeling, in this case, relaxation, stress reduction, or even excitement.
You see, we’re not addicted to the actual activity. What we’re addicted to is the feeling that activity gives us. Just think of any habit you have that you find undesirable. What positive feelings does it give you? Know that you’re getting a “reward” for those bad habits, that’s why you continue doing it. We don’t do things habitually that makes us feel bad, at least not at the moment that we’re engaged in doing it.
For example, you might overeat and feel bad afterwards, but while you were eating, you probably had a big smile on your face as you licked the juicy BBQ sauce off your fingers. Same goes with smoking. You might keep saying to yourself you’re going to quit after you just smoked, but while you were smoking you were probably just enjoying the state of relaxation.
This is the main reason why people set a goal of developing a good habit, such as regular exercise, and fail. They associate bad feelings to it instead of good ones. So how do we associate good feelings? Just think of disciplining a child. If you want a child to do something without forcing them, you reward them, give them something that makes them feel good. So the secret is to find a way to associate good feelings to the activity you want to develop as a habit. There are lots ways to accomplish this. Here are some ideas.
Ways to Create the Good Feeling
- Reward yourself immediately after you’ve taken action.
- Focus on the end result.
- Think about the consequences of NOT following through.
- Imagine where you’d be 6 months, a year, 3 years from today if this habit is now a part of you.
- Think about what feelings you’re looking for and find other things you can do that give you the same feeling and combine them.
- You want to give yourself something that will make you feel good, something that you normally wouldn’t do. Just make sure it doesn’t contradict the habit you’re trying to create. Don’t reward yourself by binging on fatty foods if your habit is to eat healthier foods obviously.
- Why do you want to create this habit in the first place? Think about the feelings you would get if your habit was already developed.
- Create and associate pain to not following through. Imagine where you’d be years down the road if you don’t create this habit.
- For example, if the habit you’re trying to create is to workout everyday and the feeling you get is a feeling of power and confidence and you happen to have a particular song that when you listen to gives you that sensation, listen to it while you workout.
So now that you’ve found out some ways to associate some good feelings to engaging in the habit you want to develop, you’re all set right? Not quite. Unlike bad habits, good habits take focus and work to develop. Why? Bad habits give you instant gratification, while developing good habits usually don’t. Most of the time, you’re going to need to push and motivate yourself to perform the actions you’re trying to develop into a habit.
So what are the 7 steps to developing habits?
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