Irish Independent, August 22nd 2017
Old habits die hard, but it is never too late to change. Habits are fixed ideas in our mind, which cause us to do things without thinking. Up to 80pc of our days are spent on autopilot, from the minute we wake in the morning until we go to sleep. We automatically click into our routine of taking a shower, eating breakfast, washing teeth and so on. We don’t have to think about it, we just do it. We have established habits around diet, fitness, career, health, finances and most areas of life, but not all of them serve us well.
Bad habits are non-productive actions that sabotage our results, causing us to do things that don’t produce the desired outcomes. Maybe we want to drop a few pounds but just cannot say ‘no’ every time we come across a cake. The outcome of eating the cake is not in line with our desired result, but we do it anyway, out of habit.
Many of our habits are deep-rooted and changing them requires effort and perseverance, but the rewards are enormous and lead to life-changing personal growth.
Take a look at results you are getting that are not making you happy and write them down, outlining the negative feelings they induce. For example, if you are unhappy with your weight, thrash out why this is not making you happy. Is it making you ‘feel’ self-conscious, physically uncomfortable or unattractive? Be honest with yourself and connect with the feelings you are getting. To start, select one habit that is screaming at you for change. Trying to change a few at the same time could leave you overwhelmed and dropping the plan.
Source of Habit
Our mind is the starting point of all our actions and results, so habits must be addressed on a mental plane first. If we don’t change the habit at source, we will quickly bounce back to our automatic ways. Make a written list of the negative actions you currently do, and don’t do, that are contributing to the result you don’t like. Maybe you want to drop a few pounds but just can’t say ‘no’ to cakes. You know that less sugar and a daily exercise routine will help, but just don’t get around to it. As you track your way to the root of the habit, you will develop an understanding as to why you are getting the results you don’t want.
It is a common mistake to think that merely cutting out the negative actions is enough to eliminate a bad habit. If the old habit is not consciously replaced with a positive habit, another negative habit will automatically replace it. Maybe you are in the habit of going on a big shopping spree every time you get paid and find yourself low on funds and stressed to pay bills at the end of each month. Devise a replacement habit and write out the new result in the present tense. This can be one paragraph, but while writing it, make sure you feel into it, like it’s already happened. “I am financially buoyant and have ample finances to meet my expenditure at all times. I enjoy spending x amount on new clothing once a month and have ample funds to meet my bills… “. Whether on paper or computer, keep it to hand and read it over and over as often as possible, so it will sink into your mind.
Focus on the result you want and visualise yourself already in possession of this. For example, if you want a lighter body then hold a mental picture of yourself in your desired shape, feeling slim, toned, healthy and confident. It is important to see and feel yourself already in possession of the outcome, otherwise you will get a temporary fix and quickly click back into your old autopilot if you feel tired, annoyed or emotional. By visualising yourself already in possession of your new weight, you firmly imprint the desired result on your mind, which is where it matters. Emotional connection with the new thought, along with repetition, changes habits permanently.
You can’t hope for habits to change by sitting on a couch and thinking about them. Once you have dealt with your habit on a mental plane, you need to get into physical action. If you want to improve your money habit and start saving 10pc of your income, then set up the direct debit and get going now, today, not ‘someday’ or ‘one day’. If your new habit is healthy eating, stock up on what you need in terms of fruit, veggies and health foods. Write an action plan that is going to replace your negative habits and produce results.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Old habits will not disappear overnight and repetition is key to changing habits permanently. A new habit will take time to fix in your mind, so give yourself ample time and don’t expect miracles after the first few days. Patience and perseverance are required until your new habit becomes automatic, and feels as normal as brushing your teeth in the morning. Visualise yourself in possession of the new result and repeat the productive actions you have outlined daily for 30 to 60 days, until they stick.
Habits are deeply ingrained and persistent, so when you start breaking away from your comfort zone, you are likely to experience discomfort. It is your mind’s job to keep you safe, so when you start making changes, worries and doubts will arise as your mind resists change and questions your new activities. Be aware that your mind is putting up a battle against the new actions, accept the discomfort as natural and keep going. Focus on your productive actions and visualisation.
When battling deep-rooted habits it can be a big challenge to keep motivated over a period of time, so it is a good idea to get someone to report to. Choose a friend or family member to be your accountability partner, and ask them to check in with you at regular intervals, until you habitualise your new activity. In return, you can offer to support them in tackling a habit and both of you will benefit from the accountability collaboration.
When working on habits it’s vital to surround yourself with upbeat, encouraging people who support you. It’s important to communicate your changes with family and close friends, so they are aware of your new regime and some may even jump on board. Avoid those who tend to complain a lot, or have a negative take on life, as they will not help your efforts. Steer clear of any individuals that may be engaging in the old habit that you are in the process of changing, until you have successfully replaced the habit with a new one permanently. It may be necessary to make new friends or join groups that are on the same path. For example if your new habit is around fitness, this could be a sports club or camp.
If you’re serious about getting fit quickly and permanently, you will benefit from hiring a personal trainer who tailor makes a programme for the nutrition and exercise you need to get into desired shape. If you want to change career and increase your income doing what you love, you can look into mentors, like myself, to help change your mindset and guide you to turn your dream into reality. My mentor, Bob Proctor, says that getting a mentor saves you 10 to 15 years of struggle and I truly believe this to be true. A mentor, coach or trainer costs some time and investment but will fast-track you to quicker and more permanent results.
Never Give Up
There will be times when you slip while implementing your new habit. That’s how habits work. They are so deeply rooted that your mind is trying to keep you where you are comfortable, but not necessarily happy. So even if you slip once, don’t worry, get back on track and ask yourself what you can do to prevent slipping again. Keep going for another 30 or 60 days until you turn the tables and the new action becomes a habit. When you feel uncomfortable not doing it, you know your new habit has taken root.
Changing a habit will bring so much good into your life, that it becomes a never-ending story. Once you have rid yourself of a habit that has been niggling at you for years, you will experience a sense of success and achievement, empowering you to press ahead and tackle another habit. I encourage you to make it a habit to change your habits. Make small permanent shifts and watch your life transform.