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Changing A Habit : Strategies For Success

Changing a habit is one of the most difficult tasks that a person can undertake. It is a really big challenge. The high failure rate is a testament to that statement. I’m sure everyone has heard of countless cases of people trying hard to change habits but failing to do so.

Many times it has nothing to do with ignorance or attitude. For people who have destructive bad habits, many know intellectually that their bad habits are destructive not only to themselves but also to the people around them. They genuinely want to change but are just unable to do so.

Changing a habit is like going up against a very tough adversary. To win the battle, lots of firepower is needed. This firepower is supplied by our determination. So first of all, we need to have determination to be able to change a habit.

Is determination enough?

changing a habit As we can see from history, the largest army doesn’t always win the battle. Just because you have a lot of firepower, just because you have very high determination doesn’t mean you will definitely be able to change a bad habit.

In fact if you rely on determination alone when changing a habit, it is almost impossible for it to be successful. It will be an uphill battle all the way. It is tough because of the manner of habit formation. Habits are not just mere tendencies that we indulge in. Habits are rooted in the biology of our brain and nervous system. That’s why it is so hard to change a habit.

So win the battle what is needed is a strategy. The greatest generals who win the most battles are also the best strategists.

So let’s jump into the strategy and get to work right away. As we go through the process, you will need a journal as we’ll be doing some habit discovery work as well as brainstorming. Always only work on changing a habit one at a time. The more focus you give it, the better the chances of success.

The Process of Changing a Habit

1. Start with having clarity

changing a habit The first step to changing a habit is to have clarity. Know exactly which of your current habits you want to change. Be specific about the details of the habit that you want to get rid of. For example, I want to change my habit of feeling awkward and isolating myself during social gatherings.

Being clear on this is very important. How can you fight against the enemy if you cannot even identify it accurately? As they say, clarity is power.

When identifying your bad habit, leave all the excuses and justifications for having that habit at the front door. We’re not taking that baggage along. It is normal that we sometimes feel that a habit is necessary to us in some ways. Perhaps the habit serves a purpose. But don’t worry about that for the moment, we will be talking about that later on. Just focus on identifying the habit.

Apart from knowing what you don’t want, you must also know what you want. So if you don’t want to act/be a certain way, what do you want instead? Identifying the positive habit that you want is just as important as identifying the bad habits that you want to change.

In your journal;
Identify and write out in detailed and clear description the bad habit that you want to get rid of. Also find out what positive habit that you want it to be replaced with. Write that down in the same manner.

2. Proceed with the why

After you have identified the habits that you want to get rid of and the good habits that you want instead, provide your WHY for changing a habit.

changing a habit You must have strong, clear reasons for wanting to change a habit. Your desire for changing a habit can be to gain something, to help achieve success, to improve yourself or to prevent something from happening. Your reasons should include what making this change will do and how it will specifically impact your life (and the life of those around you).

This is a very important step. When you don’t have strong reasons for changing a habit, it is very easy to lose determination and drive. You have got nothing to fall back on. Like I said, changing a habit is a tough task, you’ll definitely face difficulties and discomfort along the way. If you don’t have strong reasons for changing a habit, you’ll be more likely to give up.

What makes a professional sprinter train 8 hours a day? What makes him go through all the pain and discomfort of the training? Is he likely to train as hard if there are no Olympics or World Championships? Definitely not.

Give yourself strong reasons for changing a habit.

In your journal;
Think and come up with reasons for changing a habit. Write a paragraph or two about those reasons in your journal. How would your life be different? What will changing the habit give you? What positive things would it provide and what negative things will it remove? Take some time to come up with as many reasons as possible and make sure that those reasons are strong and compelling enough to ensure that it motivates you.

3. Identify the function of the bad habit and find a replacement for it

Just to recap, so far you have clearly identified the habit you want to get rid of, you know what you want instead, and you have strong reasons that will motivate and keep you on track during the difficult times. We’re making good progress. It’s time for the next step.

The very important thing to understand about a habit is that it actually functions to meet one of our needs. That is how it came into being in the first place. No matter how negative or destructive a habit may be, we developed that habit to use it for something.

For example take the bad habit of biting fingernails. Many people bite their fingernails when they feel nervous. To them, biting fingernails is actually an outlet to release their nervousness and anxiousness. So that is the function of the habit which made it came into being.

changing a habit Now, if you kicked a habit but did not find something else to replace it’s function, your body will eventually have to go back to the old habit because that particular need isn’t being met. Take the above example, if those people do not find an alternative outlet to release their nervousness and anxiousness, they will eventually go back to the habit of biting fingernails.

So it is very important that you identify what is the original function of your habit. What did you gain on a physical, psychological and emotional level from partaking in that bad habit? Which needs did it meet? It may be to relieve pain, relieve boredom, to be an outlet for emotions or something else.

Understand that by kicking the habit, you’re gonna lose all these things. When that happens and there’s no alternative to replace it, our being will yearn to have it back on an unconscious level. It is at this time that the habit takes the chance to re-establish itself.

To discover the purpose of a particular habit, it is often necessary to look deeper into ourselves and our actions. To do this, try to identify a regular pattern which leads to you doing the habit. Look for indicators such as;

  • when do you normally do it
  • what time of the day
  • what is usually happens before you indulge in the habit
  • what are you doing at that time
  • what is the location
  • who you are with

This will help you find the original purpose which made you develop that habit in the first place.

After you have identified the need that is being met by the habit, you must find a replacement for it. This is so that we can continue to meet that need even after we have kicked the habit. Look for positive ways to fill that gap and ensure that the replacement is effective and adequate. For example, if you smoke or drink to relieve stress, look for other outlets to do that such as exercising, meditating or taking up a hobby.

An additional benefit in identifying the patterns of a habit is that it will help you become more aware of it and that helps you stop it. Let’s say you identified that you tend to binge on food during the period of your company’s month end reporting. That is the time when you are particularly stressed and pressured.

If you have identified that pattern beforehand and have that information, you can better plan to prevent it. For example, every month when it’s getting close to that period, you can take deliberate steps to prevent that bad habit from happening. Clear out your fridge before that period, plan activities that can relieve stress such as sports, going to the movies or social gatherings.

In your journal;
Find out and write down the purpose of the habit you are indulging in. What needs did that habit meet? What will you lose by changing a habit? How you intend to fill those needs when that bad habit has been kicked? What positive actions can be an effective and adequate replacement?

4. Set up the rules of the game to win

In addition to having determination and strategy, let’s further tip things in our favor by deliberately setting up the rules of the game to help us win.

What do I mean by that?

I mean make it as difficult as possible for that bad habit to emerge. Stack as many factor as possible to discourage it from happening. Make it really tough on yourself to indulge in that habit.

For example, say if you binge on food a lot, then empty your refrigerator. If you bite your fingernails, wear gloves all the time (or think of something else). If you watch TV too much, hide the remote control. If you’re shy and don’t mix around in social settings, try to get friendly and outgoing friends to go along with you.

At the end of the day, it is these little things that will eventually make a big difference. By making a habit just a little bit harder to indulge, it immediately takes away the momentum of the situation. This helps you immensely in the battle against your formed bad habits.

In your journal;
Brainstorm ways to make it hard for your habit to emerge. Be creative and think of situations that usually lead to the indulgence of the habit, then identify the things that makes it possible. Brainstorm ways that can prevent it from happening.

5. Going into the field

changing a habit After doing all those steps above, you are ready to go into the field and challenge the habit. It is important that you complete all the steps above first because you will be needing those things when you go into the field to fight and attempt to change a habit.

To kick a habit, the best way is to stop cold turkey. The less you do something, the weaker the habit becomes. Using your determination alone is insufficient, but with both preparation and strategy from doing steps 1 to 4, you have a much better chance.

Whenever you feel like indulging in a habit, do the following steps. Do it as soon as you become aware of it.

  1. Identify and be aware that you have the urge to indulge (or is already indulging) in a bad habit. What you did in step 1 and 3 will help you here.
  2. Immediately break out of the pattern of the habit. Do something crazy, say something weird, make funny movements or think bizarre thoughts. This helps break the pattern of the habit. Our habit formation creates neurological patterns rooted in our nervous system – that is why when we have a habit, we are immediately drawn to do it more and more. However, when you do bizarre and unexpected things in the middle of a habitual action, that pattern is being altered. Much like a record being scratched by a needle which destroys the pattern of the record. By breaking the pattern, you get out of your habitual cycle and regain control.
  3. Remember your reasons for wanting to kick a habit. If possible, take out your journal and read the reasons that you have identified in step 2. Make sure that you do this with emotion. Feel the negative emotions if you continue the habit and the positive emotions from stopping the habit. Experience how doing that will change various aspects of your life. This gives you motivation and leverage to stop yourself from indulging in the habit.
  4. Now perform the alternative action and habit. This will be your positive replacement habit as well as the action that will meet the needs provided by the old bad habit. This step is the most important.

Do it so that every time you feel like indulging in the bad habit, you end up doing the positive habit instead.

Consistently perform these steps whenever you are about to do a habit. Each time you fail to do so will result in the bad habit reinforcing it’s position. Stick to these steps and sooner or later your old bad habit will change to a new positive one.

6. Leverage with rewards

changing a habit Finally, motivate yourself further to kick a habit by dangling a carrot tied to a stick in front of you. If you’re not a big fan of carrots, dangle something else. In other words, motivate yourself through rewards.

Set up a reward structure to further boost your determination and motivation. For example if you did not indulge in the habit at all for 5 straight days, reward yourself by going for a relaxing massage. Arrange things like that.

Set milestones and give yourself little rewards when you reach them. Make sure you have these small rewards as well as big rewards for when you finally kicked the bad habit.

Final thoughts…

When changing a habit, the usual threshold is to totally abstain from that habit for at least 21 days. Some experts recommend 30 days. So the period of between 21-30 days should be the target to reach when working on changing a habit.

By following the steps and strategy listed above, changing a habit is possible. With determination and the right strategy, any habit can definitely be changed.

More resource of changing habits

What Is A Habit - What is a habit? We talk about habits all the time but what exactly is a habit and why is it so important for our success to have good habits in our daily lives.

Habit Formation - Why is it important to know about habit formation? To do anything, you've got to understand it first. If you want to change bad habits, you need to first know how habits are formed.

How To Break A Habit and How To Break A Habit Part 2
How to break a habit? That is a question that I have been very interested in for as long as I can remember because by knowing the answer to that question, one could fully conquer his or her life.

Avoiding Procrastination and How To Stop Procrastination

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