Written by: Mandy Napier, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." — Aristotle.
If you have ever struggled to change a habit, you are not alone. Perhaps you have taken a few giant steps forward and then a few backward? Or worse, quit and fallen back into your old ways again? If you’ve tried to lose weight, establish an exercise routine, plan your day or develop a great morning routine, it is a common story.
Habits are an integral part of all success. In the words of John Dryden, whom I quote in the opening chapter of my book, Creating Healthy Life Habits;
"We first make our habits and then our habits make us." — John Dryden.
When you change your habits, you have the potential to change your life.
Why is it so difficult to change our bad habits?
Studies by neurobiologists, cognitive psychologists, and others indicate that from 40 to 95 percent of all behavior—how you think, what you say, and your overall actions—falls into the habit category. Even if you’re conservative, you’re on automatic pilot for about half of your life—a somewhat sobering statistic.
You form habits because your brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort, energy and become more efficient. They make your life easier.
Habits as defined by cognitive psychologists, are:
“Automatic behaviors triggered by situational cues.”
Specific behavior repeated over time becomes a habit. And habits are run in your subconscious mind, the part of your mind that runs most of your life.
How long does it take to change a bad habit?
Recent research led by a team at the University College London says that it takes on average 66 days to create a new habit. However, it can take up to a year to establish a successful, lasting habit. Furthermore, a key part of successful habit creation depends on the person’s commitment and desire to change. More importantly, it helps when you understand the science of how a habit is formed. Charles Duhigg explains this exceptionally well in his book, The Power of Habit.
Your subconscious mind is a million times more powerful than your conscious mind.
When did you last have to consciously think about how to tie your shoelaces, dry dishes, or wash your hair? While it’s great that you don’t have to remember how to do mundane things in life, there is a downside to changing your bad habits.
The downside is that unless you’re intentionally aware of what you’re doing, it’s very easy to fall into default mode. This can especially happen when you’re tired or have decision fatigue. You simply use programs already installed in your subconscious mind, regardless of whether they take you towards or away from your intended goal or destination.
This applies to your thoughts as well. Most of the time, you’re not aware of the constant chatter in your head. Many of these have been repeated so frequently they have now become habits. These thoughts are just as powerful, perhaps more so, than your habits of behavior because they are responsible for steering the course of your life.
Here is an example of how this can happen. Mary, a single mother, often left her young daughter alone because she had to work. To compensate for leaving her on her own, she always left lots of food and treats for her. Sue, her daughter, soon formed a habit of eating when she was alone. As she grew into adulthood, she found herself turning to food whenever she felt alone. The feeling of loneliness was a trigger to eat.
Consequently, Sue reached out to me. She had been trying unsuccessfully for over 10 years to lose weight. She felt she had tried just about everything, but she put on a little more weight year after year instead of losing weight. Unpacking the habit, discovering the beliefs beneath the behavior, and establishing a plan with new behaviors, small steps, and accountability was key to her success.
There are numerous other examples like the above one that block people’s success. The power of these old patterns and habits is strong and hard to change on one’s own.
Changing bad habits permanently takes commitment and desire.
To change bad habits permanently, you need to:
Desire to change your habit.
Come up with acceptable alternative behaviors.
Consistently and purposefully do the new behavior, whether you feel like it.
Clear out any beliefs and thoughts that may be blocking success.
Explore your habits.
To start on your journey to changing your habits, answer the following questions:
What habit do you want to change?
Clearly identify the bad habit (negative behavior) you want to change.
Is it a small one, or is it complex?
Why do you want to change? Get crystal clear on this.
What triggers this habit?
Does it involve a total lifestyle change?
How does this habit currently serve you in your life?
And what is the reward or feeling you are seeking?
As you answer these questions, approach them with a mindset of curiosity. Avoid judging yourself and instead focus on seeking answers.
Additional steps to help you change your habit:
Imagine yourself having changed this habit. How does it feel? Step out into the future and fully connect with the new successful you.
Write down a plan for changing your habit. Keep it simple and identify the steps required. Writing helps lock in new opportunities and open up new pathways.
Choose one small behavior that feels easy and doable. Schedule it into your diary to increase your chance of success.
Start small. This is critical. For example, if you want to make exercise a part of your life but have always hated it, commit to walking for fifteen to twenty minutes three days a week. Later you can increase the intensity and frequency.
Celebrate and acknowledge your wins. Much of what you do is motivated by reward. When you reward yourself, you are keeping the flame of motivation alive, and you feel better.
Find yourself an accountability partner or an expert to help you succeed. Athletes know the benefit of engaging a coach. Embrace the mindset of a champion and seek expert help.
There is always a cost to success. In forming new habits, it is giving up short-term gain and delaying reward for the future. Simple, yet one of the hardest things for humans to do.
While there is no magic formula or quick fix to changing habits, small steps, desire, consistency, and accountability are all important components.
If you are ready to change your poor behaviors and create better habits, I invite you to reach out to me.
Mandy Napier, Executive Contributor, Brainz Magazine
Mandy Napier is a Global High-Performance Mindset Coach, Professional Speaker, Author, Athlete and founder of Mindset for Success. With her results driven, neuroscience backed C.L.E.A.R ™️ Coaching Model, Mandy has helped thousands of high achieving professionals break free of their self-imposed limitations and create transformational results. With a focus on the ‘how-to’ change, training the mind and rewiring the brain, she helps her clients gain more clarity, purpose and direction. Her clients are successful in achieving their goals because she works with them to develop routines and habits that support consistent action. Mandy is the author of Creating Healthy Life Habits, has been featured on podcasts such as Success, Motivation and Inspiration and The Successful Advisor. She publishes articles that are shared on various global platforms as well as national publications. Her mission: Extraordinary Results for her clients.