As humans it’s inevitable that we develop bad habits. Those bad habits can be anything from eating habits to physical activity. Join author Nicole Wilson as she shares “Making Good Habits That Actually Stick!”
Written by Nicole Wilson
I have always loved the quote by Aristotle “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
In life, in our careers, as well as in our personal relationships we are essentially the sum of our habits. By the same token what we achieve or don’t achieve in all those essential areas is the result of the routines and behaviors we regularly participate in. Therefore having a fulfilling life rather than an unfulfilling one often comes down to whether we have good habits or bad ones. The key is recognizing we have the power to change our habits and thereby change and to an extent control our future.
If you are reading this right now, then you are likely already on the road to creating better habits or perhaps you’re dipping your toe into the possibility of a better life, health, fitness, personal relationships and thus a better and brighter future for yourself.
I like to think of habits like a Magic 8 Ball, but one we have control over; not simply an unknown answer that arrives at random from the murky blue waters of a plastic toy. Your habits equal your future. That is a fact. Whatever your current habits are today create the future you will experience tomorrow. If you hope to achieve greater success in your work, your health, your fitness as well as your personal relationship then you are going to need new and consistent habits.
As humans it’s inevitable that we develop bad habits over the years, there’s not a single one of us that hasn’t had a bad habit that stood in the way of us getting something we wanted at one time or another. How many of you have tossed out a bad habit, felt downright awesome, and then months later wound up exactly where you started?
If that sounds like you, don’t feel bad. The truth is you are not alone. Most people want to adopt and stick with healthy habits but only a very few are able to. I want you to succeed. Thus this article will give you some of the essential tools you will need to make those good habits stick and to make that future of yours brighter than ever.
There is something of an Urban Myth bouncing around that says it takes 21 days to form a new habit. In case you’re bad at math (and still count on your fingers and toes like I admittedly do) that’s just 3 weeks. Not so fast. In a study conducted by Harvard University it actually took on average 9 ½ weeks for a new behavior to become automatic. Forging a new habit becomes easier and easier as you go, until it eventually becomes effortless.
So what’s the deal? How does a habit form? You might be asking and of course, I’ll hook you up with an answer…
The first time I tried Bikram Yoga — that’s the 90 minute Hatha yoga where the room is cranked up to 105 degrees – I had no idea what in the hell I was doing. I spent the bulk of the time concentrating on learning the new postures, listening to the teacher, checking myself against the other students, and desperately trying to figure out how to contort my body into a sweaty pretzel and look well…NOT like a complete dunderhead. My brain was working overtime just to grasp what I was doing. Now several years into my practice, I don’t think about the postures or how to do them at all, it takes little if any brainpower to work through an hour and s half of grueling yoga. Which, when you think of it, is kind of incredible!
Similarly when we are forming a new habit our brains are working overtime just to figure out how to perform the new task. They are processing heaps of new information but once our brain has learned how to perform a particular task, the new behavior becomes automatic.
If my example of Bikram Yoga doesn’t speak to you, take a moment and think of something that once required extreme focus and now you do without thinking. Perhaps it’s parking a car, fixing a spaghetti sauce, painting your nails, or remembering to pick up your significant others favorite flowers and so on.
So what do we do with our bad habits? How do we obliterate those bad boys?
Another favorite philosopher of mine is Socrates delivered this powerhouse of an idea, “ The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but building the new.”
When we first decide to take action towards eliminating our bad habit(s) we often get discouraged and let’s face it a bit bratty about what we will be giving up rather than focusing on the greater reward. We begin to feel deprived and that’s when we tend to binge or return back to the habit. Keep in mind that even though it’s a bad for you, its also become comfortable to you. But just as a ship in the harbor is safe, that’s not what ships are built for. They are meant to sail outside their comfort zone to achieve their greater destiny.
In keeping with what Socrates was saying, the idea is not to place all the focus on the bad habit for whatever we focus on grows, but instead shift our attention to cultivating new, healthy habits.
Forming habits is a process hard-wired to our brains and all habits have a feedback loop. Understanding how the feedback loop works we can successfully replace a bad habit with a good one. The feedback loop of a habit is as follows: Your brain is CUED, your brain goes into the HABIT, and your brain gets the REWARD. CUE->HABIT->REWARD.
For example when I was younger and stressed about something I used to meet with one of best friends and sit outside and smoke cigarettes on a stoop and yap about the daily strife of being a teenager. In my situation there were two rewards, for 1, I got to see and socialize with my friend and 2, I had the relaxing effects of breathing in the hot air of the cigarette.
The rewards I was reaping were valid though obviously terrible for me. If I just quit smoking and didn’t replace my rewards with something equally rewarding I’d be likely to relapse into my bad habit. So applying the principles of the habit feedback loop how could I change my habit from bad to good?
An alternate routine would be to ask my friend to go with me for a run, or cycling, or go to a yoga class and so on. Thereby I replace the bad habit (Smoking) with exercise while reaping the same rewards (socializing with my friend and the relaxing effects of working out).
So what are some other proven methods of creating Healthy Habits that stick?
1. Focus on The Reward: There is no reason on God’s green earth why anyone would start something and stick to it if the end result wasn’t really awesome. Most of us have goals we are only semi-excited about. Unclear or uninspired goals are as mealy as lukewarm bathwater and who likes that? Hell, nobody… The key to sticking with your new habit is to create a really clear and delicious end result so you can refer to it daily as well as each time you’re tempted to take a step backwards. Dream up a great vision for your life & get excited about it! Think of what you will feel like when you have it. Live in that energy. That kind of future thinking visualization is great. If you can visualize it, you can make it so. Some people have found Vision Boards to be quite helpful where they literally cut out images of the life they want to live and place it somewhere they can gaze on it each day.
2. Consistency: As I mentioned before it takes approximately 9 ½ weeks (or one erotic sex fueled flick starring Mickey Rourke) to adopt a new kickass habit. If you want to start a new exercise routine do it everyday even if you have to start with only 20 minutes. The less frequently you do something, the less likely it will stick.
3. Keep it Simple a.ka. K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple Stupid): You don’t begin at the top of the mountain, though that may be the goal you are committed to achieving. Don’t try to completely change your life in a single day you need to build up to it. Small habits practiced daily will build up your stamina. If your goal is to run a marathon by the end of the year and you’ve never run before, you must start with jogging first and so on. Eventually you WILL get there! Break your goal down to manageable steps.
4. Get a Buddy or Find a Group: There is a reason the AA 12 step model has proven to be the most successful in rehabilitating alcoholics. Find a person or a group that supports your goals that you can lean on and talk to when you feel tempted to return to bad behaviors. Those people will prove invaluable in reminding you of what you really want and hold you accountable to sticking to your plan.
5. Surround Yourself With Role Models: When you were a kid I am sure there were people you looked up to and admired. Spend more time with people who already have the qualities and habits you wish to espouse. A recent study showed that if you have obese friends and family members you are were 10 times as likely to become obese. Simply put, you become what you surround yourself by.
6. Replace Your Reward: As I discussed in the Feedback Loop, it’s essential you replace your reward of the bad habit. If you are forking something over and giving something up, you’ll need to find something that adequately replaces the thing you’ve lost. If sitting in front of the boob tube noshing on Doritos made you feel chill take up meditation, yoga, even hot saunas or sitting in a hot tub can do the trick.
7. Skip the “Aw Fuck its!”: New Habits are very delicate. There comes a moment when after you’ve made a bit of progress, you have a bad day or encounter some friction and that’s when you’re tempted to say “Aw Fuck it!” and also “It’s not worth the effort!” Look at what is causing your new habit to be potentially broken down and find a way to negate it.
8. “If ,Then”: There’s a reason “If, Then” follows my “Aw fuck its!”. When you’re experiencing an “Aw fuck it!” moment you need to have a device that reigns you back in so you don’t blow it. For instance IF you’re feeling too tired to go right for your run after work, THEN give yourself an hour to unwind, rest and recharge before lacing up your sneaks.
9. Do it for You: While forming better habits may greatly impact those around you and those you love for the better it has to start with you. You have to make to make this commitment to a better life and better habits for you. Make your commitment personal. Recognize that becoming a better version of yourself will inevitably make those around you better and happier too. – See more here.
Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life — Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.TM Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.
What have you accepted in your life that took time, physically or mentally?
A few years ago I was diagnosed with cystic ovaries. A condition many women have, but few really put a voice to. It’s sort of the ugly stepsister known as women’s health. I have had to undergo several surgeries to remove them as they are recurrent. I changed my diet, my lifestyle, and underwent fertility preservation in the form of freezing my eggs as preventative insurance. It was incredibly traumatic when I was first dealing with it and freaking out about the prospect of perhaps not being able to have children. But I was proactive and I have turned my health issue into a passion by helping other women change and improve their health with diet and lifestyle change.
What do you appreciate about yourself and within your life?
I appreciate that I am a fun loving broad who really speaks her mind. Perhaps it’s the brassy Native New Yorker in me, but I have never been afraid to put it out there. Sass and all.
What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What goals do you still have?
Oh gosh, TONS! I sometimes feel like that Carpenters medley “We’ve only just begun.” I am extremely proud of my work as an artist and actress and the fact that I was able to make my sparkly girlhood dream a bonafide reality. I would very much like to land bigger parts in film and TV as well as write and produce a film at some point
What is your not-so-perfect way? What imperfections and quirks create your Identity?
As Rogers and Hammerstein would say, “I am a cockeyed optimist.” In regards to nearly everything but especially when it comes to the people I love. It takes a special sort to get in my door, but once you’re in, you’re in for life. I’m sort of like the Mafia. I love HARD and sometimes allow people to stay in my life far longer than they actually deserve to be there. It takes a lot for me to want to give someone the boot from my life. More often I relegate them to a smaller role in my life, when perhaps it’s better I just say “too-dah-lou” sucker!
How would you complete the phrase “I Love My…?”
Family. They are literally the best bunch of crazy apples on this planet. They have supported me through every phase of my life, empowered me, and encouraged my dreams from the time I was knee high to a grasshopper. Love them!!