Everything about you – from the way you dress, the way you talk, the way you walk, the way you comb your hair or brush your teeth in the morning – are the result of the sum of the habits that you have accumulated over the years. These behaviors have molded you into the person you are today. But what if some of these things, are things that you don’t actually like about yourself? So is there a solid formula to breaking bad habits, and if so, what can we do to change them, and mold a ‘new’ you?
Fortunately for us, the answer is YES, there absolutely is a method to breaking these bad habits, and to do so in a way that makes us stronger, sharper and better.
It wasn’t until much later on in my life that I realized the importance of habitual behavior in personality development, success in life, and more. I didn’t seem to be able to pinpoint the causation behind why my life was how it was today. Was I born this way? How did I end up being so disorganized? How can I be so forgetful? How can I be so unmotivated to not go to the gym? Do I not WANT do go to the gym? Am I lying to myself?
Not at all. Contrary to popular belief, personality is not fixed. It is adaptive. I’m going to repeat that because of the magnitude of this statement in terms of it’s ability to change your life. Anything about you, including both good behaviors and bad habits are not fixed traits. They are adaptive, and you can change any and all of them. This is awesome news, because it means that it’s simply a matter of changing what we do regularly, in order to mold us into what we are. Your brain preps itself for how to function based on what you continuously do. It’s very much like how your body preps itself for lifting heavy things by giving you more muscle to cope with the fact that you’re probably going to be doing more heavy lifting. Why? Well, because you tend to do it all the time. It’s simply adaptive to your lifestyle. And the brain works this way as well.
Think about it. If you always seem to have a messy room, cluttered inbox, or a disorganized closet or desk space, how do you think they got there? Our habits are behaviors or actions that our brain takes while on auto-pilot – without us consciously thinking about them. So that means that in order to form new ones, we have to slam the brakes on this auto-pilot-driving monster, and take over the wheel – consciously. Here are ways that we can do that to ensure that the process of breaking bad habits is smooth, effective, and long-lasting.
1. Keep Lists and Set Goals
This one is huge, and probably was the one that single-handedly made the biggest difference for me personally. Think of yourself as a swimmer in a sea of information. Your brains hears, sees and filters through so much information everyday, especially in the information age. It can be overwhelming. We simply don’t need quick access to all of that information, and it’s the reason why as humans we have a part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) dedicated to filtering through the clutter, and grabbing our attention when useful or necessary. By keeping lists and setting goals in that list, it eliminates the clutter and serves as a reminder of the things that are most helpful or important to us. An great example of this would be hospital discharge papers. It serves as an emotional anchor to the experience that landed us in the hospital in the first place, and also serves as a hard copy example of the things to do do help us avoid being admitted again, such as not eating sugary foods if you are diabetic. That list is obviously hugely important and deserves a “sticky” in your brain on the basis of importance. That’s what lists do. When you put goals on this list, you remind yourself of what things are important to you every day, so you’re not distracted by the “noise” that inevitably creeps into our consciousness everyday.
2. Be Mindful (Develop Your Awareness)
Mindfulness, at least in terms of meditative practice, seems to be more and more common these days. You hear more and more about Fortune 500 CEOs attributing their excellence to meditation these days, and for good reason. Being mindful is a great way to develop a keen awareness of all of your actions or behaviors, first consciously, but after a bit of practice, subconsciously too. But aside from the common advice to practice mindfulness meditation, my absolute favorite hack of all time into better productivity and life satisfaction is to ask one simple question: “Why?” Asking why is an incredible tool to developing your awareness because your brain HAS to give an answer. It will stimulate your mind to think about ways to solve your problems. Dirty room? Ask yourself – why is this room dirty? What you will come to find out through your brain answering itself, is that because over time, you have been in the habit of rushing, procrastinating, putting it off until later and so on, and eventually, this builds up into a compounded mess all around you. The same is true of e-mail. I once had to go through over 5,000 emails that I passively let pile up in my inbox before I realized that I had an absolute time-eating-monster in the form of the bad habit of being passive, and not taking action toward the things I want, including increased productivity. Don’t let it happen to you.
3. Stimulate your Brain
Boredom and lack of stimulation are great ways to keep your brain on auto-pilot. If you’re cruising at 5mph, and you’ve got a loooong way to go, your brain is going to just go to sleep and stay on auto-pilot. Keeping yourself engaged, especially in physical activities, is very important to jump starting the process of keeping your mind engaged and not used to shutting down, or disengaging. Your brain likes to sleep or get sleepy when you’re not using it. Stimulate your mind with good intellectual conversations regularly instead of just texting people. Play games like chess, do crossword puzzles, keep brain games apps on your cell phone, and do things that require actionable steps to help you jump start your habit-crushing.
4. Get Help
Sometimes our bad habits aren’t entirely our fault. One example of this might be a sleep disorder. I suffered from a sleep disorder almost my entire life. I got into immense trouble at school despite being a straight A student, simply because I had a sleep disorder that went untreated and under appreciated in terms of it’s medical importance. This then in turn had a huge effect on my academic career, ultimately leading to me being kicked out for being late, again, despite having perfect grades. There were also a plethora of other things wrong under the radar, including nutrition and diet. At the end of the day, no matter how much you want to make changes, if you don’t have the fuel to make those changes, you can’t make them…so get the requisite help you need, such as good diet, good nutrition, and then if necessary see a doctor. If you have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, try asking a doctor for medication to help regulate your sleep cycle until the diet and nutritional methods build up to the point you can rely on those solely. If you have hormone problems, talk to a doctor about fixing those, and then see your gains in the gym skyrocket. You do have to do your own swimming and put in the work… but why swim upstream when you can swim downstream?
5. Force of Will (Your Will is a Muscle)
What’s the secret to willpower? The fact that your will is, essentially, a muscle. The more you flex it, the stronger it becomes. The number one hack specifically catered to breaking bad habits is force of will. I don’t care what other authors or articles say. Nothing is stronger than your own force of will in terms of potential energy. If anyone ever tells you so…run like the wind. Your will is the most beautiful, and unbreakable thing there is. No one can break your willpower – only you can. Someone may tell you that you have an ugly dress on, or an ugly tie, and so you wonder why after being told this, the wind leaves your sails. Was it the other person, or what they said? Absolutely not. It was because you believed it. Your will is indomitable. If you force yourself (with help from #3,) and with a good push in your direction, you will physically and synaptically jump start your brain to start re-wiring itself. It’s an amazing and beautiful thing. Try it.
Let me know what you guys think in the comments section below, I’d love to hear from you.