Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010: A New Year for New Habits, maybe....

There’s an old riddle that goes like this,

I am your constant companion.
I am your greatest helper or your heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.
I am completely at your command.
Half the things you do, you might just as well turn over to me,
and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly.
I am easily managed; you must merely be firm with me.
Show me exactly how you want something done, and after a few
lessons I will do it automatically.
I am the servant of all great men.
And, alas, of all failures as well.
Those who are great, I have made great.
Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine, though I work with all the precision of a machine.
Plus, the intelligence of a man.
You may run me for profit, or run me for ruin; it makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me and I will put the world at your feet.
Be easy with me, and I will destroy you.
Who am I?

I am a HABIT!

Typically, most people think of a habit in the negative. Bad seems to go naturally with habit: overeating, smoking, lack of exercise, laziness at all associated with the idea of habit. However, if you look up the definition of habit, you’ll find something to this effect, “an automatic pattern of behavior in reaction to a specific situation.” If you think about it for a moment, you know you practice positive habits: brushing teeth, showering, completing work tasks, finishing homework and many more.

If we’re not careful, we can easily become ensnared by bad habits. Samuel Johnson said, “The chains of habit are generally too weak to be felt, until they are too strong to be broken.” Few of us set out to develop bad habits; generally, we stumble into them.

Habits, good or bad, make you who you are. The key is controlling them. If you know how to change your habits, then even a small effort can create big changes. So, how do you change your habits? There’s no one-size-fits-all rule. You have to find the habit-setting processes that work for you.

Here are some ideals to get you started:

Start Small – We don’t change overnight. It took time to develop the bad habit and it will take time to establish the good habit. Slow your pace. Want to start a regular fitness program? Make a pact to hit the gym once a week for the first couple weeks. If that is successful, increase to two days a week and so on. Make your goals challenging enough so that real change is actually taking place, but not so hard that you set yourself up for failure.

30 Days to a new habit – Steve Pavlina has a lifehack for creating an new habit or breaking an old one. Based on the idea of a 30-day trial period from shareware, he suggests, rather than focusing on behaviour change as a long-term fight, look at making it a “trial” for 30 days.

Use a trigger – A trigger is a short ritual you perform before a habit. If you wanted to wake up earlier this might mean jumping out of bed as soon as you hear the sound of your alarm. If you wanted to stop smoking this could be snapping your fingers every time you feel the urge for a cigarette. A trigger helps condition a new pattern more consistently.

Share with someone – When it comes to establishing a new habit, tell as many people as you can about what it is you’re doing and why. Not only does it create accountability, it also gives you a support network.

Write it Down – Don’t leave commitments in your brain. Write them on paper. It clarifies your goal by defining in specific terms what your change means. It keeps you committed since it is hard to dismiss a promise printed in front of you.

Track it – Keep a log of your daily successes. Each day, note your good habit behaviour.

Use affirmations –Write out positive affirmations about your habit and stick them prominent places. Write them as if you have already met the habit.. For example, if you are planning to wake up at 6am, write ‘I wake up at 6am every day’ and not ‘I am going to wake up at 6am every day’. The former signals your subconsciousness that you are already waking up at six, reinforcing the behaviour.

Be grateful – It is easy to develop bad habit envying what others have. It is vitally important to learn gratitude. Think about the things you have to be thankful for. We need motivation to become the best we can be, not to try and copy someone else.

Try, try again – Vince Lombardi said, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” It takes perseverance to enjoy success. If for any reason you skip a day, get right back in there. If for any reason you skip a week, get right back in there. If for any reason you skip a month… you get the idea.

Mix it up – You won’t know whether a new habit will work until you try. Mix around with key habits until you find the balance that suits you. Don’t follow habits because you ’should’, but because you’ve tested them and they work in your life.

Make changing a habit top priority until it becomes natural.
Be vigilant and do not allow setbacks to get in the way of accomplishing your goals. Implement a behaviour consistently and it will become a habit. It may take a few weeks or a month or more, the trick is to stick with it until it is automatic. If there is a lapse, simply start again.


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