Changing habits – New Year New Me

Are you tired of setting goals and not achieving them? Are you struggling with your habits? It’s that time of the year when people get frustrated because they are not keeping their New Year’s resolutions. As part of our New Year New Me series, we will be sharing how habits work and what we can do to stick to them. Stop fantasizing and make it happen!

The American Journal of Psychology (1903) defines a habit as “a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.” Our lives are determined by the sum of our habits. If we are in shape or successful is also a result of our habits. And what if we want to improve? How can we form new habits and actually stick to them?

There is a process that all habits follow known as “The Habit Loop” that Charles Duhigg explains in the book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”.

James Clear has adapted these ideas on patterns of behavior into a simple system that describes the steps that all habits follow. James calls this process the “3 Rs” and they can be applied to the majority of our day to day actions, for example, waiting at and then passing through a set of traffic lights:

Reminder: This is the event that initiates the behavior. Choosing the right reminder is essential when forming a new habit as an effective reminder doesn’t rely on motivation. This is why a reminder should already be a part of the daily routine. Example: The traffic light turns green

Routine: It’s the action itself. By starting small with the new habit you have to “make it so easy that you can’t say no” – Leo Babauta. By asking too much of yourself in the beginning you will certainly fail. Gradually working on a new habit piece by piece is a much more effective strategy. Example: You start moving and go through the set of lights.

Reward: You successfully and safely pass through the set of lights and continue your journey.nts and by using positive reinforcement, you will gradually feel motivated to repeat the new habit. You successfully and safely pass through the set of lights and continue your journey. Example: You successfully and safely pass through the set of lights and continue your journey.

James Clear identifies stress and boredom as the two main causes of bad habit development. It is often thought that breaking habits and making new ones requires a lot of willpower, however, this is untrue. In the beginning, willpower is needed to start the process through the ultimate goal is for the new habit to be automatic and without thought. There are several methods for replacing bad habits and they require experimentation as each habit is unique to each person:

Substitute: People who try quit smoking will often chew gum as the two don’t mix with each other. A substitute needs to be the action that is turned to when in stressful or boring situations when the need to repeat the bad habit is at its peak.

Triggers: By avoiding certain situations where it has become routine to act on a particular urge, the chances of doing that habit are diminished. Frequently your environment assists with the creation of habits and so by changing your environment, you change your habit.

Get a partner: Changing habits in secret rarely works as there is no accountability and therefore no one to see you fail. However, having someone else for support and someone to celebrate victories with can make breaking bad habits easier. Having a gym partner makes going to the gym mandatory as there is another person relying on you.

By asking yourself questions such as when does my bad habit actually happen? Where am I when this occurs? Who am I with? You will be able to identify key times, places and people that trigger your bad habit.

Once this is understood the process of replacing the habit can begin. Other things such as a positive mental perception of self, visualization of personal success and planning for failure will also aid the learning of a new habit. However, each habit is personal and may take some figuring out or tinkering with regards to the reminder and reward.

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