“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~William Durant
Research suggests that most of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors happen automatically and subconsciously. Running on autopilot allows us to focus our energy on more important things. This is great, except when we unconsciously form bad habits that block our growth and make us unhappy (or unhealthy).
We are the sum total of our habits. What we repeatedly do and think becomes who and what we are.
The good news is that creating positive habits and eliminating negative ones can be the path to excellence and growth – we can use the power of habit to chart new ways by training our mind!
It’s simple, isn’t it. Simple but not easy.
Most of us strive for excellence and growth but our old habits often take over holding us back. Whether it’s negative thinking patterns that create worry and anxiety, not sleeping enough, or stress eating, we all have some habits we could do without. Truth is, our habits are hard to change. But change is possible.
Mindful Habit Change
Whether you’re trying to form a new habit or break an old one, it helps to understand how habits work. There are 3 components to a habit:
- Trigger – the cue that initiates the behavior
- Routine – the habitual behavior itself
- Reward – the benefit you gain from doing the behavior
Understanding this gives us plenty of opportunity to work with our habits.
We can change any negative habit by working with its trigger.
To eliminate a bad habit, start by eliminating the trigger – change the environment to change the habitual response.
If you can recognize when you’re triggered, you can choose to act differently – awareness is key.
When you mind pays attention, your brain can build new neural pathways to reinforce what you learn – this is due to your brains ability to change and adapt (neuroplasticity).
This is where mindfulness comes in – if you can notice the trigger and recognize the habitual response about to play out, you can choose a more skillful response. You can choose to do something different, but only if you’re aware.
This mindful pause is essential for changing our self-defeating behaviors and emotional habits.
For example, if you notice having a negative thought, listen but don’t react. Instead, observe the thought, then mindfully choose to let it go, instead of getting entangled and hijacked by it.
The trick is to know why you do it, recognize when it’s happening, and have an action plan for handling (or even avoiding) the trigger.
Start by asking yourself few questions about the negative habit you want to eliminate:
- When does it happen?
- What triggers it?
- Where are you?
- Who are you with?
- How often you do it?
In the end, breaking a habit really means establishing a new habit (here’s a handy worksheet to help you change your habits). If you can train your brain to recognize the triggers and get curious, then you will have a chance to make the choices that run alongside your values and beliefs – mindfulness is the way.
And, remember, don’t judge or criticize yourself. Approach this investigation with compassion. The goal is to notice.
It’s never too late to break a habit; easiest way is to start recognizing the triggers and rewards that form around them.
We can build new triggers & rewards to create new healthy habits.
Creating new habits is much easier than eliminating old patterns.
The easiest way to form a habit is to pick a specific and actionable trigger (and something you already do every day), plus follow the new habit with a positive reward. Make use of our current routines, then just add your new habit to it.
Setting intentions for the day when you sit down to drink that first cup of coffee in the morning or writing your gratitude list as soon as you get in bed are both good examples of associating specific triggers (morning coffee, getting in bed) with positive action (setting intentions, gratitude journaling).
Few points to keep in ind when building new habits:
1. Dream big but start small.
Don’t be afraid to have big goals, then find the minimum amounts of work that you must get done every single day to make the bigger goal a reality. The smaller the daily habit, the easier it is to implement it into your life.
Pick a mini habit you can sustain every day. If you want to meditate daily, start by meditating for a minute. If you want to get more fit, start with just 3 pushups, or a walk around the block. Make it so easy you can’t fail. But you have to do it daily.
2. Setup a reminder.
It could be a visible reminder (journal on your nightstand), or a calendar reminder (schedule a gym session every Monday morning). This will make it easier for you to get it done routinely.
3. Build in positive rewards.
Either enjoy the habit (mindfully focus on the process finding joy and fulfillment in it) or do something enjoyable right after to create a positive association. Make it a game, announce it on social media, take yourself out for lunch once a week, buy yourself flowers every Saturday – reward yourself for your hard work.
4. Create a support group.
Find a buddy to help you through the change – deep-seated behaviors are hard to tackle; you’re going to have a moment of weakness. Your buddy will hold you accountable and celebrate your victories with you.
Plan to fail occasionally. When you do slip up, be compassionate towards yourself, and notice your progress no matter the occasional hiccups.
Take Charge of Your Own Wellness
Change is hard. New habits take time to form. You will need to be persistent, mindful, and embrace imperfection (occasional failure is part of the process). But if you can stick to it on most days, the results can be life changing.
Training your mind takes awareness – mindfulness can take us off of autopilot so we can consciously respond instead of habitually reacting to life.
The more you train your new routine, the more the new behavior will become automatic and habitual, the healthier and happier you can build your life to be.
Forming a new habit takes repetition and focus. And time.
Be patient. Be kind. Be strong.
Do you struggle with feeling stuck, lost or overwhelmed? Would you like to gain control over your mind instead of letting it control you and your life?
You’re worthy of putting yourself first!
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