Wrest con­trol of your habits

AND LEARN WHAT IT TAKES TO FORM POS­I­TIVE NEW ONES.

TechLife Australia - - HOTSPOT - [ SHARMISHTA SARKAR ]

IF THE RE­WARDS ARE POS­I­TIVE, LIKE A BRIGHT SET OF CHOMPS, CHANCES ARE YOU WILL RE­PEAT THE ROU­TINE THE NEXT TIME THE CUE PRESENTS IT­SELF. DO THIS FOR ABOUT 10 WEEKS AND, HEY PRESTO, YOU’VE GOT A HABIT.

OUR LIVES ARE the sum of our habits, both good and bad. Th­ese habits de­ter­mine how healthy we are, how happy (or un­happy) we are, or how suc­cess­ful we are. Our habits de­fine us, form­ing our per­son­al­ity and root­ing deep into the things we be­lieve in.

WHAT IS A HABIT?

If you’re per­form­ing a cer­tain be­hav­iour au­to­mat­i­cally, or sub­con­sciously, be­cause you’ve done it too many times be­fore, that is a habit. The re­peated per­for­mance cre­ates an as­so­ci­a­tion in our brains be­tween the cue (sit­u­a­tion) that trig­gers the be­hav­iour, and the be­hav­iour it­self. You floss your teeth be­cause you see the floss be­side your tooth­paste. Af­ter a few it­er­a­tions of that be­hav­iour, you’ll floss with­out even hav­ing to think about it. Bored? You might au­to­mat­i­cally drift to­wards Face­book for some gos­sip.

But it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that habits are dif­fer­ent from ad­dic­tions. Smok­ing, al­co­holism and drugs aren’t habits.

HOW HABITS FORM

Be­havioural psy­chol­o­gists found that it takes, on av­er­age, 66 days to achieve au­to­matic­ity for per­form­ing a new be­hav­iour, and that every habit (good or bad) fol­lows the same three­step pat­tern called the ‘habit loop’ — re­minder or cue (the trig­ger that ini­ti­ates the be­hav­iour: spot­ting the floss), rou­tine (the be­hav­iour it­self: the floss­ing) and re­ward (the ben­e­fit you gain from the be­hav­iour: ex­cel­lent oral hygiene and a stun­ning smile).

If the re­wards are pos­i­tive, like a bright set of chomps, chances are you will re­peat the rou­tine the next time the cue presents it­self. Do this for about 10 weeks and, hey presto, you’ve got a habit.

HOW TO DE­VELOP A GOOD HABIT

If you’ve got an an­noy­ing habit and want out, you can use the same three-step habit loop to re­place your bad habits with some good ones. Shar­ing your thoughts with friends and fam­ily on chang­ing your habits might get you an ear­ful about self-con­trol and willpower, but you don’t nec­es­sar­ily need ei­ther. In fact, mo­ti­va­tion and focus prob­a­bly won’t change a thing.

Go­ing by what re­searchers have found, you need to spend about 66 days to in­grain a new good habit into your sub­con­scious. So take some time and in­dulge in in­tro­spec­tion. Only go af­ter habits that are im­por­tant to you, as it’s hard to find a re­ward if you’re do­ing it for oth­ers.

GET­TING STARTED

Start by set­ting a re­minder for your new habit, with­out which you’ll never get started. A good re­minder (or ‘cue’) has noth­ing to do with mo­ti­va­tion. It’s got to be some­thing that will in­stil the be­hav­iour into your reg­u­lar rou­tine, and the best re­minders are vis­i­ble ones. For ex­am­ple, I take the train to and from work. To get into the habit of adding some ex­er­cise into my daily rou­tine, I de­cided to walk to a sta­tion across the Syd­ney Harbour Bridge, 3.5km away, in­stead of the one 400m away. My vis­i­ble cue? Walk­ing shoes in my back­pack. Want to get into the habit of floss­ing every day? Keep your floss right be­side your brush and tooth­paste and you’ll have your re­minder.

Next, set re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions. Pick a habit that’s easy to en­code into your life. Want to lose weight? Then don’t be un­re­al­is­tic about it, like want­ing to lose 20kg in 4 weeks. Af­ter all, y ou want a last­ing change, not a once-off trans­for­ma­tion. As Zen Habits blog­ger Leo Babauta has said, “Make it so easy that you can’t say no.” Say no to cook­ies, for ex­am­ple. That could lead to you giv­ing up un­healthy snack­ing. One Amer­i­can sci­en­tist has sug­gested that if you want to make floss­ing a habit, start by floss­ing one tooth every day. You read that right — just the one. You’ll find that floss­ing one will of­ten make you floss the rest as well.

And tell oth­ers about your habit, too. If you slip up, they’ll be the ones set­ting you straight. Don’t be afraid to make mis­takes along the way and just per­se­vere.

Lastly, don’t for­get to cel­e­brate the pos­i­tive changes. Re­ward your­self if you’ve lost a kilo or two of weight. Done an ex­tra push-up — cheer. Flossed seven days in a row — show off your smile. Give your­self credit every step of the way and en­joy the hap­pi­ness of suc­cess.

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