Change Your Habits, Change Your Life

08/02/2017 16:19

As the world seems to be going more and more mad with disheartening Brexit discussions and crazy Trump legislations, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Even if you're one for not reading much of the news, you can't escape the heated debates which are happening all over social media. When so much of our mental and physical energy is being robbed like this, we fall back on the things we do automatically without any energy exertion: we fall back on our habits.

With about 40% of your daily behaviour being based on habits, there is a lot in your life you do automatically. Your habits, both good and bad, have even more power over you when you are feeling tired because that is when you're most likely to resort to autopilot mode.

This is great if you're falling back on the good habits that fuel your happiness, health, and success. This is not so great if you're falling back on the bad habits you're not that crazy about. Which is why I'm going to ask you to take stock of them right now.

I want you to become your own social scientist, fiercely observing and analysing your habits without critique or judgement. Simply start by becoming aware of them because only then can you start to assess them, break them down, and potentially change them.

To help you on your path of being a social scientist, I want you to identify at least one good habit you have and one bad habit you have. You know it's a good habit if it's fuelling your happiness, health or success - and you know it's a bad one if it's holding you back from them.

Then, I want you to use Charles Duhigg's habit loop with its three elements to break each of your habits down:

1. What is the cue for your habit?
What tends to be consistent when you feel the urge for it? It could be the time of the day, a location, an emotion, an activity, or even a person.

2. What is the routine?

What is the actual behaviour you engage in?

3. What is the reward?
What sense of satisfaction, pleasure or achievement do you get from your habit?

For example, I have a good habit of doing 15 minutes of morning yoga everyday. The cue is an activity (I get out of bed), the routine is doing 15 minutes of yoga in my living room with a streamed yoga lesson, and the reward is I feel energised, focused and connected to myself after doing it.

Equally, I have a bad habit of procrastinating on writing my second book right now. Whenever I have scheduled the time to work on my book, I start to do any other quick wins I can to try and clear the rest of my to-do list. The cue for that is getting a 15 minute warning on my phone that my writing time is about to start. The routine right now is checking my to-do list and doing any other quick wins I can off it - and then getting sucked into them completely. The reward is I get many things ticked off my to-do list so I still get a sense of achievement even though I haven't written a word. Not ideal!

That's why I'm going to take a spoonful of my own habits medicine to fix it. If you want to change a habit, you can't just delete it because it's a specific neural pathway in your brain and you can't simply make it disappear. What you can do however is to override it with a new neural pathway that's similar and involves the new behaviour you want to turn into a habit. Here's how to do it:

1. Identify the cue, routine and reward for the habit you want to change.

2. Replace the bad routine with a new good routine that still has the same cue and the same reward as before.

And voila! Sounds simple and it really is - if you stick to it.

So here is my commitment to you: I'm going to replace my bad routine of starting to do lots of other things off my to-do list when my reminder goes off that writing time is about to start. Instead, when the reminder goes off, I will put my computer on airplane mode and only have the Word program open to write. I will simply stare at the screen if I have resistance and eventually I know I will start to write because my drive for achievement will force me to put words on paper, even if it's just notes or random brainstorming. Then I will still keep the same (even better!) sense of achievement as a reward.

The more you repeat the new routine with the same cue and same reward, the stronger that neural pathway will become and the easier it will be to stick with it. It will feel difficult at the beginning but I promise you it gets easier the more you do it. Usually, the more resistance you feel, the bigger leaps forward you're about to make.

Do this habits review to start identifying and changing the habits that are holding you back - and you'll also get started on your drive towards excellence. Because, as Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." The same applies to happiness.

To dive deeper into habits, sign-up for my 'Creating Happy Habits' online course. If you're one of the first 10 to sign-up, you'll get a free 1-on-1 speed coaching call with me. If you sign-up this week, you will also get access to an extra habits lesson with live Q&A!