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Building Habits | For lasting Success

Creating daily success rituals

Be like the sun that rises and sets

A seed does not simply grow into a tree in one day, nor does a poor man become wealthy in one day.

It is a well known fact that one of the most important traits of successful people is persistence; habits make persistence seem effortless. Most of the things we desire in life can normally be achieved and maintained by establishing powerful habits. If it is health you are after; it is no secret that healthy eating habits and exercise will not only make you healthy but also keep you healthy. If it is wealth, there are countless studies and mathematical confirmations that simple financial habits will provide long lasting cumulative wealth. The list goes on; in nearly every aspect of your life great habits will lead you to excellence.

“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” – Ovid
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

Building lasting habits

Have you ever asked yourself why you do something in a particular way? Maybe you always brush your teeth first, or wash your face? Maybe you always shower first thing in the morning or last thing at night? Maybe you always eat a large breakfast or maybe you always eat a large meal in the evening? Maybe you always switch the TV on when you get home or is it the kettle?

Step 1: Habit Awareness

Over the years we build habits around our daily routines, the first step to building lasting habits is understanding the habits we already have. For one day (or more) become aware of the things you do habitually, keep a notepad handy and after you do anything that you think might be a habit, write it down. It is important not to try and write it down during. (You do not want to interrupt the flow.)

A good way to organize the habits as you write them down is to split them up into groups. As an example you may want to write down your morning habits on one sheet of paper, your afternoon habits on another, your evening habits on another. You may want to split them up into activity related habits, work habits, home activity habits, leisure habits, shopping habits, study/school habits etc. As you start becoming habit aware the list will continue to grow. For example did you ever notice that when you walk into a store you will normally turn to the right?

Once you have become habit aware we can move on to working on modifying existing habits. There is no point in building completely new habits before we become adept at handling our existing ones.

Step 2: Habit Pairing & Habit Modification

Researchers at leading universities have found that one of the best ways to modify an existing behavior or habit is by overriding it gradually. This simply means either replacing an existing habit with another one or my favorite method habit pairing. Now that you are more habit aware and you are equipped with a list of habits (from Step 1), I am nearly certain that you have either a new habit you want to add or an old one you want to get rid of.

The best habit building strategy is two pronged: 1. Build new habits. 2. Build your habit building ability.

Like a muscle, it is best to build your brain’s habit building ability gradually. You would not walk into a gym and expect (or want) to immediately lift the heaviest weight possible. Doing so would most probably result in injury or failure, neither of which are a good result.

Start with a small habit first. As an example if you want to increase your water intake you may want to pair drinking water with your morning routine.
Here is a simple habit pairing exercise you could do. Place a bottle of water next to your toothbrush. Tomorrow morning after brushing your teeth take a few sips of water. Build this into your routine, also a good trick is to look at the bottle when you put it down, there should now be less water in it – this is a visual cue that you have accomplished your goal. Do this small habit building activity daily, eventually you will not even notice that you do it. You can also tie it in with a bedtime routine instead but it is important to only focus on one habit at a time.

This is the simple power of habits. Habits eventually make action effortless. Yes new habits are not easy to build and they take time but the reward is phenomenal!

Step 3: The habit builder

Now that you know how to build a new habit, you need to become a master habit builder. Don’t try jumping to the big habits yet! Continue using the model and what you learnt above to build and modify more habits. It is very important to keep in mind that many habits are actually made up of a collection of habits. As an example starting your car is a collection of habits. You prepare your key pointing outwards, insert it into the ignition, check the gears (or put your foot on a pedal), probably put on your seat-belt and then flick your wrist to start the engine. If you are an experienced driver you do all this without thinking at all.

To become a habit builder you need to first focus on gradually building new individual habits, then building more complex habits as time goes by. Don’t rush! Remember once you build your habit building ability you will be able to modify your habits more effectively.

Step 4: Habit Removal

My favorite habit removal technique is overcrowding an existing habit gradually. For example dealing with a difficult habit like smoking is not easy, it is helpful to first overcrowd the habit with new habits. The first habit you can add is a delay habit. Before taking a cigarette out of the packet make it a point to take ten steps in any direction. Do this always. You may instead check your facebook feed first, send yourself an email with the time and place that you are smoking the cigarette, call a friend, send your loved one a text, go wash your hands etc. It does not matter that much what habit you add, the trick is adding a delay and a new habit.

Once the first added habit becomes natural you can either add another delaying habit or start doing one action instead of the other. For example you get the urge to smoke a cigarette, you take ten steps and don’t smoke the cigarette. The next time you get a craving you take ten steps and smoke a cigarette. This tricks your brain slightly, because the urge (cue) resulted in an action it expects even if incomplete your primal brain is semi-satisfied. This method still requires a lot of will power, quitting smoking is not an easy task but if you have become a habit builder it will be easier to accomplish.

Eventually you want to start increasing the frequency of not having the cigarette, so if when you started replacing you would do habit two(walk ten steps) without smoking a cigarette once every ten times, you would now start doing it once every five and then eventually once every two, continue reducing until you start doing habit 2(walk ten steps) mare than habit 1. Now for example you should be walking ten steps 5 times and smoking a cigarette once.

Eventually you will need to add another habit that is never used with Habit 2 (smoking), so for example you might walk ten steps and have a chewing gum, or take ten steps and send yourself an email with the time and place you chose not to smoke. The trick is initially overcrowding the cigarette habit and then replacing the actual cigarette habit completely. This habit is the “replacer” habit, it is extremely important that it is a new action not an already existing one in the habit loop and it is always an either or! So if chewing gum is the replacer habit, you can never chew gum and smoke at the same time or in the same loop. So no chewing gum after the cigarette! This is actually crucial, if you do not ensure that they are never done together you risk simply having added another habit to the loop instead of a replacer.

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