EDITION: February - April 2014

Transforming our Habits

By Ruth Osborn
The New Year is traditionally the time for resolutions of self improvement but really every new day, new hour or new second of our lives is an opportunity to improve ourselves. One of the keys to being the best that we can be is to build a repertoire of good habits. We all have good habits and bad habits. Knowing that we are capable of changing our habits is the first step to transforming the bad into good and improving our lives. Whatever your life goals are, it is possible to reprogram our behaviours so that they help us achieve our goals and transform our lives for the better.  

If we think about the many things we do each day, we carry out a lot of them automatically with little or no thought whatsoever, from making coffee in the morning to brushing our teeth after breakfast or lighting a cigarette after a meal. Such behaviours are deeply programmed into us, they are our habits. Our habits make us more efficient, by automatically carrying out tasks without having to think, motivate or cajole ourselves into doing them, we save energy and that energy can be used towards other things. Creating good habits is the key to more effortlessly living.   

In his book ‘The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business’ Charles Duhigg outlines a three step process as to how our habits work:

1) Cue – the trigger for action
2) Routine – the action or habit
3) Reward – the benefit from the action

For Duhigg the key to breaking bad habits and putting new good ones in place is to first identify the trigger, then replace the bad action with a more desirable good action. For example, after eating (cue) instead of smoking (routine) – go for a walk (new habit); I feel sad (cue) instead of eating chocolate (routine) – call a friend (new habit). By having an alternative positive action you start to create a new behaviour pattern in place of the old one. If you keep repeating this action over and again it will become a habit, at first it will take effort but over time it will become automatic.  

Duhigg emphasises that it is important to think about the reward, the benefit that you are getting from the good new habit. It could be how great you will feel mentally and physically or the sense of accomplishment you will have. The reward is your motivation, to help you stick to your new behaviour and help you form your new habit. If you slip up, don’t worry, the next time you will get it right. We all slip up sometimes, that’s life, what is important is that we pick ourselves up again and start where we left off. The best thing we can do if we slip up is to get back on track with practicing your new habit.  

Forming new habits can be difficult, especially when our habits are so deeply entrenched. Because of this it is advisable to work on one habit at a time. Once you feel the behaviour has become automatic select your next improvement. Do be aware that when we are under stress we tend to revert back to old bad habits, if you are feeling stressed make sure to take time out and address the issues that are making you stressed so that you can continue with your good work on building positive new habits.

There is varying opinion and guidance on how long it takes to create a new habit and get it to stick. As with most things it will depend on the person and how much of a challenge the new habit is. Some claim it only takes 21 or 30 days to change a habit, one suspects it is not always be as easy to do, it may take less time it may take more. What is clear is that habits do take time and effort to create and keep in place. Using motivational tools will help keep you on track. You could keep a diary of noting every time you performed the new habit, or a simple tick chart. Also having a social support network or some accountability can really help in habit change and formation. You might want to let your close friends and family know what you are doing and ask for their support.  

Whatever habits we want to change or put in place, to be truly successful we have to believe that we can change, and we can. •