Four Ways to Commit to a New Habit

A habit is defined as a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behaviour that is acquired through frequent repetition. “We live mostly by habit,” says Ann Graybiel, an MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences.

From the time we wake up, most of what we do, eat, and think will be the same as it was yesterday. We turn on the coffee, grab the paper while the shower heats up, get in the car, drive to work and don’t remember driving there.

Of course, habits can be very useful; it would be overwhelming if we had to think through every decision as if for the first time. Although most habits are harmless, we all have a few we wish we could change. Which of your habits would you like to change?

Trying to create new habits because we should is rarely effective. Identifying our unique reasons for wanting to change a habit, however, allows us to tap into our willpower and reach our goals.

Four Steps to Create the Habits You Desire

1. Identify the habit you would like to change or create. If your goal is to get rid of an existing “bad” habit, be sure to identify the behaviour you are going to substitute. Be very specific. “I want to get fit” is not a new habit. “I will go to the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 6 to 8pm instead of watching television” is more
specific and doable.

2. Discover your willpower. Write down all of your motivations for developing this new habit. We all have different reasons for developing new habits. Perhaps you want to go to the gym to meet people, lose weight, lower your blood pressure, or feel youthful. Look at how this new habit will benefit all areas of your life. How will it affect your spouse, children, job, income, social contacts, and physical health? The more thorough you are when doing this exercise, the easier it will be for you to follow through. Keep writing until you can’t imagine a life without this new behaviour.

3. Examine the consequences. Write down all the ways that your life will be negatively affected if you do not change your habits. Again, consider all areas of your life, physical and emotional.

4. Commit to your new habit for a minimum of 21 days. Research tells us that it takes a minimum of three weeks to develop a new habit. At the beginning, examine the lists from the previous two steps and add to them daily. As Zig Ziglar, well-known self-help author and speaker, wisely said: “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Creating a new habit is not easy, unless the reasons for doing so are important. When we say that we can’t change a specific habit, what we are really saying is that we don’t have a big enough reason why we should. What I know for certain is that when the whys are big enough, the hows take care of themselves.

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