‘Human beings are creatures of habits’; habits are actions so intrinsic and natural to us that we do not have to consciously ‘make an effort’ to perform them. It just becomes a spontaneous action of our own mental state. These are not something that we created overnight but we have been adopting and developing them right from our childhood, through our growing years, and into adulthood. Having said that, habits may make or break an individual. Good habits are the key to achieving goals that we’ve envisioned; it is the key to success! Hence if you are looking to change any aspect of your life or put things in order, start building habits that will help shape your goals into reality.
It is never easy to break a bad habit or adopt a good one. It needs much more than an intention or desire to develop one. Human brain is wired to veer towards accepting whatever comes easily, which is why, we can be very quick to get into a habit that may give us short-lived satisfaction but may not necessarily be of any good in the long run. Yet, the human brain is not alarmed about it as there is no imminent danger of death. Thus, we keep falling back into the same old habit even if we want to get out of it.
Sometimes it needs a bigger, life changing event for us to look deeper and work harder to achieve the desired habit to become a part of us. Even then the road is not easy, but this is the first step – Recognising the need to develop a good habit! Change will not happen automatically; we need to programme our behaviours as new habits to make it easier. With self-discipline , we can create a new habit that will take little effort to maintain. However sheer will power is not enough to create habits and make them stick, you should be able to enjoy the process. Here I am sharing my experience and observation about building good habits.
1. Start simple start small: Have the bigger picture in mind but do not train your thoughts to focus on reaching your goal alone. Instead work on building the base, strengthening the process bit by bit. A tiny example is if you want to make healthy eating a habit, do not go all out and buy all the green vegetables or items that you consider are healthy and give up your favourite desserts altogether! Start simple, do not try to change your entire life in one day!
2. Be committed: Once you decide on the desired habit that you want to develop, stay truthful to it. Commit to at least a minimum of three to four weeks and do it every day. These first weeks are the conditioning phase, once you pass this, it becomes easier to maintain it.
3. Stay positive: James Clear says in his book Atomic Habits that ‘in the early and middle stages of any quest there is often a Valley of Disappointment’. According to James, it is because we do not see the progress we expect, we get frustrated and even give up. This is one of the core reasons why it is hard to build habits that last. In order to break, what James Clear coins - the Plateau of Latent Potential and see meaningful results, habits need to persist longer. Stay positive, do not let the thought of failure sink you. Counter each negative thought with a positive one.
4. Be consistent: Consistency is key to building habits. Whatever your actions are towards developing a habit, do it every day. If you want to make a habit of waking up early, try to wake up at the same time every morning, at least for the first 4 weeks. Invest in repetition, it is easy to pick a habit but difficult to make it stick.
5. Remind yourself : Create an environment that supports your habit building process, be it things that gives you a cue, people, location, or time. It could be a long process hence it is easy to slip and forget or lose focus at times. To keep on track, remind yourself why you are doing it, why you are here, put visual affirmations.
6. Do it for You: You - your inner voice, has to convince that you want this to work for you. There has to be an element of truth within you about it. Stay truthful to yourself. If you want it bad enough you will come back to it again and again. As my yoga guru says, "falling is not failing,if you fall once come back twice, if you fall seven times, come back the eighth time". It is very much apt in a habit building process. And as my 14 yo son said after getting defeated in a game of chess with his dad yesterday – ‘It’s easy to learn but hard to master’. I thought how true this is about habits too, you can learn it, you can make it a routine, but it is hard to master, not impossible though.
7. Remove, Replace, Reward: The three R’s are tools to help keep us on the path to developing a good habit. Remove temptations that may divert your focus, for instance if you want to build a habit of financial discipline and control your expenses, when you go out for a walk in the park, do not carry loose cash or your credit card with you. This will stop you from buying something even when you get an itchy right palm! Whilst on the journey of building a habit, replace things that you lose with something good and healthy for example, if you want to reduce your screen time, replace the hours available with maybe reading, going for a walk, or maybe working on your hobby! Last but not least do not forget to reward yourself, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. As this is going to be a long journey, you ought to reward yourself whenever you achieve a milestone, however small it may be. I remember gifting myself with a new set of outfit after reaching my first four weeks of daily yoga!
As James Clear in his book ‘Atomic Habits - Tiny Changes, Remarkable Changes’ says, habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. Just as money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of our habits multiply as we repeat them.
He goes on to give an example of how the once failing Cycling team of Great Britain, a team that hadn’t won the Tour de France in 110 years and won only one gold medal in Olympics since 1908 flipped completely and became a force to be reckoned with since 2008 Olympics. They won 60% of the gold medals available in 2008 and in 2012 set nine Olympic records and seven world records. Bradley Wiggins became the first Brit to win the Tour de France in 2012 and Chris Froome, his teammate went on to win the race the following year and in 2015, 2016, 2017! The changes however didn’t happen in a day or even a year or two. It all started in 2003 with Dave Brailsford, appointed as performance director, he started observing studying and making small changes that in the end made huge impacts. I would love to mention the changes that he made to the team – redesigning the bike seats, rubbing alcohol on the tyres for a better grip, tested fabrics in a wind tunnel to and had the outdoor riders switch to wearing indoor racing suits which proved to be lighter and more aerodynamic. There were many more small improvements that ultimately accumulated, and the results followed.
So, if you are looking to improve life by developing a good habit that sticks, think big but start small and simple.