How to Build Good, Lasting Habits?
Your daily life and well-being are essentially the result of your habits. How happy or unhappy you are is a product of these habits, and leading a healthy life is also dependent on them. What you repeatedly do (what you think about and what you do day after day) is a part of who you are and should reflect your values and beliefs. The question arises when we want to make a change or improve. If our goal is to form new habits, how do we go about it?
The Psychology of Habit
If we want to form new habits, the first thing we need to do is understand what habits are. This involves understanding the psychology of habits and how they are formed. In fact, research on habit creation and maintenance began millennia ago. As Aristotle once said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit."
Today, we know that habits arise in response to a problem we want to solve. In other words, we must first identify the need for change and have the desire to solve it. Therefore, habit comes from motivation and a problem-solving process.
But in addition, for an action to become a habit, it must:
1. Occur regularly.
2. Be guided by a situation or environmental stimulus.
3. Occur automatically (without thinking about it).
Thus, habits can be defined as actions that are performed frequently and automatically in response to something in our environment. Habit formation occurs through the repetition of an action, but this has a much deeper underlying process than we might initially think; doing something over and over again until it becomes a habit creates a connection or relationship between a situation and our behavior, which is reflected in our neural connections.
In fact, one of the leading researchers in the psychology of habits, Charles Duhigg, suggests that a habit must have three components or stages:
1. A cue or trigger.
2. An action.
3. A reward.
So, the three stages of habit operate in a loop that runs continuously, allowing us to adapt the habit through trial and error based on the observed effects it has on us and our environment. If this action successfully addresses the problem or need that motivated it, the reward becomes automatically associated with the cue and action, and the habit is formed.
An illustrative example would be this: imagine we're talking about the habit of exercising. On certain predetermined days of the week (the cue), we know we will engage in some form of physical activity (the action), after which we will feel physically and psychologically better (the reward). This helps us satisfy our need for well-being and solve a problem.
Now, when it comes to creating habits, we must consider that not all habits we have or have created benefit us. For example, smoking would be an example of a detrimental behavior. To develop good habits, we first need to assess whether we have bad habits and how to get rid of them.
Breaking Bad Habits
All habits are formed in the same way, whether they are good or bad. Now that we understand this cue-action-reward cycle better, we can work with it to achieve well-being, results, and goals.
As we've seen, habits happen automatically, so it's necessary to pay attention to the cues and make an effort to interrupt the chain of action and behavior. Only then can we rid ourselves of these harmful habits.
Here are some tips to help combat these bad habits:
1. Take Small Steps
When recognizing a habit as negative, we may become impatient and want an immediate complete change. In fact, we tend to focus all our energy on achieving these kinds of changes. However, this approach is often unrealistic and ineffective.
Breaking habits that have been part of our lives for a long time is not a task that can be accomplished in a day or in a single attempt. It's a process that will take time and a lot of patience.
We need to start with small steps and remain consistent over time. To do this, we can list the factors that lead us to these bad habits and gradually distance ourselves from them one by one. For example, if we have the habit of eating junk food, we can start by not including it on the shopping list; then consult a nutritionist, and so on.
A quick and drastic change can produce unexpected and unhelpful results. Therefore, we should make small, gradual changes that are sustained over time.
2. Focus on the Cues
Bad habits strengthen as they are repeated. To prevent this, the best way is to break the cue-action association. By preventing the habit from being triggered by understanding the cue and stopping it, we can reduce the strength of the habit. To do this, we must learn to take control of the cues.
It's important to note that it will take time to identify the exact cues or triggers for each situation. That's why we need to pay attention to the circumstances in which we tend to engage in the behavior we want to get rid of. Then we can take measures to control the triggers or simply eliminate the possibility of these cues appearing in our daily lives. This can prevent these habits or help them disappear.
Continuing with the example mentioned earlier, in the case of the bad habit of eating junk food, we might realize that going grocery shopping while hungry is a cue that perpetuates the bad habit. Similarly, having certain unhealthy foods at home or saving the phone numbers of fast-food restaurants in our mobile phone can also be cues. By eliminating these cues, we can reduce the likelihood of eating unhealthy food.
3. One Habit at a Time
Many of us have numerous bad habits we want to get rid of. It may seem justified to want to eliminate all of them at once. In fact, we tend to make such resolutions at times like New Year's or the start of a new school year.
However, just as breaking a bad habit requires time and patience, getting rid of all bad habits requires even more consistency and effort. Therefore, it's essential to focus on one habit at a time to achieve a higher rate of success. This way, we avoid exerting such a great effort that we ultimately give up.
4. Use Replacements
Habits occupy a significant space in our lives and minds, so when we try to break a bad habit, it's good to avoid leaving a void. Instead, we can replace it with something better.
For example, if you're trying to reduce alcohol consumption, every time you avoid a glass of alcohol, you can replace it with a healthier drink. This approach simultaneously helps break a bad habit and develop a good one.
Developing Good Habits
The problem with habits forming unconsciously is that consciously trying to create new habits is often not very effective. However, there are some (easy) ways to trick our brains. Here are some ways that can help us develop new, good habits:
1. Identify Good Habits
We all want to have good habits, but not everyone has a clear vision of what they are. Before you start striving to develop new habits, you need to identify and define your goals. What habits do you think are good for you? Will they help you in your life and provide long-term well-being? These questions can help you identify your change goals and which new habits can help.
2. Work on Your Willpower
Deciding that we want better habits is the easiest part of the process. However, it takes much stronger willpower to continue and stay committed to the process until the end. To do this, it's necessary to
do everything possible to maintain high levels of hope, motivation, and self-confidence.
Something that can help in this regard is ensuring that you can achieve your goals. And the best way to do this is to make them more achievable. How? Break them down into smaller, manageable goals that turn the mountain into stages. And, of course, celebrate small successes and appreciate your strengths, qualities, and abilities that have led you to achieve them.
The process is not easy, and you will face multiple obstacles. However, strong willpower allows us to keep trying despite potential failures.
3. Surround Yourself with Positive People
The most conscious way to encourage the mind to adapt to new habits unconsciously is to have good company. Yes, the people we surround ourselves with will have a significant impact on habit formation. In fact, it is thanks to the people around us that most of the good habits we have developed have come into existence.
Stay close to people whose habits you wish to adopt as well. These people can also encourage you to keep striving to be better in moments when you lose motivation and hope. Naturally, positive company strengthens the mind, enabling greater effort in the right direction and the formation of positive habits.
4. Establish a Routine
Allowing the brain to get used to following a specific routine is a good way to develop good habits.
For example, if you want to develop the habit of reading a book before bedtime, you will have to make a conscious effort for a while. You can start by putting your phone aside to avoid distractions. Turning on the bedside lamp and turning off the others can also help. Having a book within reach reminds you that there is a story to finish.
If you maintain this routine for a while, it will become easier to get used to reading before bedtime. After some time, your mind will prompt you to read a few pages before going to sleep.
Therefore, if you want to change or create a new behavior or habit, you can ask yourself:
- How can I make it more obvious?
- How can I make it more attractive?
- How can I make it easier?
- How can I make it satisfying?
By following these four stages, it is likely that you will find it more manageable to eliminate harmful habits and develop new ones that benefit your daily life.
If you've ever wondered:
- "Why don't I do what I say I'm going to do?"
- "Why don't I lose weight or quit smoking?"
- "Why do I consider something important but never have time for it?"
The answers to these questions can be found somewhere within these four stages. The key to creating good habits and breaking bad ones lies in understanding these fundamental principles and making modifications that suit your personal situation.
At Therapyside, we work with psychologists who can advise, support, and help you improve your habits.
You can count on an online psychologist at Therapyside to continue delving into your emotions, prioritize yourself, and take care of your psychological well-being. If this article has helped you better understand this topic, we hope you feel more empowered to live a life without limitations!