Get Into a Better Groove: Creating Lasting Positive Habits
One of the most powerful skills I learned practicing martial arts was how to create habits. I learned that good habits are the foundation every student needs to become a successful martial artist.
Over time, I discovered that creating lasting habits is behind lasting success for anything I choose to do. That’s why I continue to study the science of habit creation, even today.
Since forming habits is so important, today, we’ll examine what habits are and how they are constructed. Then you’ll discover how you can create positive ones that last.
Habits don’t always deserve the criticism they get. Many people think of addictions or unwise decisions when we talk about habits. But they are much more than that.
In fact, your behavior can benefit incredibly from a basic understanding of how to develop habits. When you form new habits intentionally it can also help you create the kind of life you want to live.
From exercising regularly to creating a long-term savings program, habit building is essential for living well. The great news is this is a skill. Like all skills, anyone can learn it. With small, intentional steps, you can create lasting positive habits and use them to construct a life you love.
Since forming positive habits can make such a difference, let’s look at how you can start to build a new habit now.
How to Start a New Habit
Everyone has an assortment of habits or behaviors, some that are good and some bad ones. Some, like smoking or overeating seem to happen with little or no conscious thought. Others, like exercising, can be more difficult to establish.
However, just like any martial arts student, you can build new habits that take you in the direction you want to go. Habits that enhance your life.
One of the simplest methods for creating new habits is to find someone else who has done what you want to accomplish. Then you observe them and duplicate what they do.
In NLP we call this modeling.
Having a model helps you develop a blueprint you can follow that can make your journey to the next level as smooth as possible.
This is why all black belts have masters. They need a model to teach them the habits of black belt success.
Habit Building Steps
All habits or automatic behaviors are part of what Charles Duhigg calls habit loop. In his book, The Power of Habit he states that this loop has three components:
The first is:
1. A cue or reminder.
Your habitual behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Whether it’s a good or bad habit, something sets it off.
Duhigg calls this a cue. In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear renamed this a reminder.
For example, your reminder for brushing your teeth in the morning might be seeing your toothbrush by the sink.
The reminder your dog gives you for letting him out in the morning is sniffing around your feet.
For me, my cue for eating handfuls of chips when I go to a Mexican restaurant is when the server puts the chips and salsa on the table.
People, thoughts, your surroundings, and emotions trigger your habits. These cues or reminders place your behavior on autopilot. You start doing your behavior automatically.
2. Your routine or the habit itself.
After the reminder has occurred, you perform a routine or habitual behavior. It happens automatically, like magic.
Going back to my cue, the chips and salsa appearing on the table lead to me eating handfuls of chips at a time.
Finally, you get…
3. Your reward for performing the routine.
Habits bring rewards. Rewards make behaviors turn into a habit. You wouldn’t continue to do a behavior without one.
While rewards aren’t always easy to see, your habit will make you feel better without fail, if only for a brief time. This short-term reward is what makes the habit stick.
For example, you eat a whole bag of candy and feel good while you’re eating it. This good feeling is the chemical released in your brain by the sugar.
While you’ll feel bad after downing the whole bag later, while you were eating the candy you felt tremendous. The sugar high was amazing.
The same goes for me and my chips and salsa.
You procrastinate on writing an email, deciding to watch a hilarious cat video on YouTube instead. Then you move on to the next video, and the next. Your chuckling rewards you with a chemical release into your brain making you feel good for the moment.
But, while the chemical release in your brain feels good, it doesn’t get you any closer to your preferred outcome. In this case a healthy weight or a completed email.
This is why habits can make you feel like you have no willpower. Because you do them automatically, without thinking.
Let’s see how you can use this process to develop lasting positive habits.
How to Form a New Habit
1. Approach your new behavior with intention.
Make a list of the habits you’d most like to create. Then prioritize your list. This lets you work on the most important ones first.
2. Work on one habit at a time.
Pick out your number one priority habit and then focus on it.
Let’s say your number one goal is to “eat healthier”. You want to make this into a lasting positive habit.
3. Create a cue that will work for your habit.
To form the habit of healthier eating you need to create a cue.
Here are some factors to consider when choosing a cue:
What time of day do you want the habit to take place?
Where are you most likely to be when you perform the habit?
What are the things you do every day?
(It doesn’t work to choose a cue that only happens once a month if you’re trying to create a daily habit.)
For our eating healthy example, let’s choose whenever you walk into your kitchen as our cue.
4 start small.
You want to choose something you CAN do. You want to choose a behavior you can accomplish.
To do this you need to set yourself up for success. Since your goal is to eat healthy food, you need to have healthy food in your kitchen.
Then, to create a lasting positive habit, you need to decide how often you’re going to eat healthy food.
But you have to be careful here. In the beginning, if you tell yourself, “I’ll only eat healthy food at all my meals,” you’re setting yourself up to fail.
Unless you move somewhere where you can only get ahold of healthy foods, this is an impossible outcome.
Instead, make it so easy you can’t possibly fail.
At first, you might set a goal of eating healthy food one meal a day. While this won’t make you a completely healthy eater, it will help you experience success. Each success gives you a reward of dopamine released into your brain. Do these enough times and your brain will automatically attach the reward to the action of eating healthy.
This makes it much more likely that you’ll start doing this behavior more often.
5. Build on your momentum.
Once you have got in the habit of eating one healthy meal a day, you’ll want to move to two healthy meals every day. You might start by eating a healthy meal every day and two times on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Then you can add days until eating two healthy meals is your daily routine.
Increase your effort in small increments over time.
If you find that you absolutely dread the idea of eating two healthy meals a day, you’ve moved too quickly.
Instead of forcing yourself to do a behavior, do what feels comfortable to you.
- Reward Yourself
Rewards help you maintain your momentum. You want to pick something that reinforces what you’re trying to accomplish.
Since your goal is to eat healthier, then eating a candy bar and drinking a beer isn’t an acceptable reward.
Instead, you might go to a movie. You might have a nice cup of coffee, not the high calorie kind, with a friend. You could simply celebrate by jumping up and down and making some noise. Choose whatever is motivational for you.
7. Be persistent.
The road to success is never a straight line. This is especially true for creating lasting positive habits.
To make a behavior become automatic, commit to doing your best. Push yourself to keep going until you have a full-blown habit on your hands.
This will increase your odds of success.
This might take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months, depending on the habit you’re trying to create. But soon you’ll be doing the behavior you want without thinking.
Keep in mind that all good habits will take work. Also remember that the work will be worth it.
Why Don’t You Form a New Habit Today?
Whether you want to learn to meditate, start exercising, or you’re just trying to eat better, you’re more likely to stick to your new behavior if you create them intentionally.
Once you’ve chosen what you want, create a cue that works for your habit. Then start small, build on your momentum, and give yourself rewards as you succeed. Remember that even the smallest success is worth celebrating.
Finally, stick to your plan.
If you follow this path, you can conquer yourself and the world.
Why not start a new lasting positive habit today?
Want to Learn How to Create Lasting Positive Habits?
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