The Art of Changing the Habits Of A Lifetime – Part Three

The Art Of Changing The Habits Of A Lifetime.Intelligenthq

I’ve come up with two possible strategies to help you on your way towards changing your habits. Not that these are the only possible methods at your fingertips to make the change. But they nonetheless are strategies proven to have worked for a lot of people, me included.

The first goes by the name of the ‘20 second’ strategy and is based on two very simple principles. On the one hand, it makes life difficult for undesirable types of behaviour, such as buying sugary foods that are bad for you. On the other, it will encourage more desirable behaviour, like strategically placing more healthy food around the house, where you can easily get at it.

The second strategy requires you to plan ahead. In other words to be proactive when it comes to making decisions such as not driving if you’ve had one too many beers to drink.

Make sure your plan of action is suited to the habits you wish to change. I daresay it probably will be. If you put your plan into action, keep a close eye on the results. If you like what you see, keep on with the programme.

Two habit-altering strategies.Intelligenthq

4.1. 20 seconds

A while ago I came to the conclusion I was spending far too much time playing poker on the internet. I would sometimes win a little money, but it hardly compensated for the amount of time I spent trying. In reality I wasn’t enjoying myself that much either. Clearly there was no important reason to keep playing poker on the internet. And yet I couldn’t stop. I often would click on the application right after switching on my computer. I was always playing while getting on with other tasks. So how did I stop playing in the end? My screen froze and I had to buy another computer. Since I didn’t install the poker programme on my new computer the problem was solved: my poker days were over.

20 seconds can make a big difference in our lives – and when it comes to changing habits there’s no exception. Ideally, on  one hand, it should take us less than 20 seconds to do something we ought to be doing. On the other, it should take longer than 20 seconds to do the opposite! If that is case, it makes developing better habits that much easier. That way, taking the path of least resistence in order to improve our habits will require less effort on our part.

Imagine you are a smoker and you’d like to give up. You come to the conclusion that it would be easier to quit if no one around you smoked and there weren’t even any cigarettes to buy where you were. That’s a great way to keep to your promise to stop smoking. But if you were surrounded by smokers and had easy access to cigarettes, you would need a lot of willpower to quit.

The 20 second barrier is enough to make changing your habits easier in most cases. Of course there are habits, and then there are habits (being a drug addict one of them) just as no two of us are totally alike. There are times when the 20 second rule might have to be stretched to minutes or hours to get to the heart of the problem. The greater the distance you need to create between you and undesirable patterns of behaviour, the more challenging and probably necessary it will be to make the change.

Nonetheless, 20 seconds is a good place to start for most of us. Doing something good for yourself like exercise would of course benefit immensely from starting in under 20 seconds. That way you would need less willpower to do it until it too became a habit. Also finding a way to ensure undesirable habits take longer than a minute to do, rather than 20 seconds, is a good idea. The longer it takes to backslide into old undesirables habits, the less effort is required.

The key to making new habits work is to establish rituals and then stick to them. IntelligenthqLet’s put it another way: once you have made up your mind to break a certain habit, what this strategy essentially asks of you is to find ways to facilitate desirable behaviour and distance yourself from what you consider undesirable.

In some cases, there’s no doubt it can work. Suppose for example that you have no control over your credit card use. There are a lot of ways to break such a habit, the most extreme being probably cancelling or destroying the card itself.

However a credit card can be useful and simply destroying it might not be the best solution to the problem. Another way forward could be to leave your card in the car. That way, everytime you feel like impulse buying you have to go back and get it. Problem solved for lots of shoppers with the urge to buy something on their credit card. Having to go back to your vehicle every time you get the urge to use it is hardly convenient. A little more drastic still would be to leave your card at home.

Changing the way you eat would also benefit from adopting measures to combat bad habits and encourage better ones. For example, wanting to eat healthy meals more often instead of something that’s bad for you. Obviously, when out shopping buying food that is better for you is a good start. But it wouldn’t hurt to also strategically place healthy food around the house or even where you work.

Picture yourself watching television at home in the living room. Within arm’s reach is some fruit and then there’s chocolate in the kitchen. Chocolate is probably the bigger temptation. But the thing is, you would have to get up, go to the kitchen and come back to the living room – that might take more than 20 seconds. Worse still, it would mean missing a few moments of the TV programme you are watching. But to eat that fruit all you have to do is stretch out your arm, put the fruit in your mouth and start chewing – in much less than 20 seconds! The ease with which you can start eating fruit can often alter the ‘balance of power’. Simply put, you end up eating the fruit instead because it’s the path of least resistance.

No two situations are alike. Depending on the circumstances, an action plan might work in some cases and in others not. I firmly believe that you, dear reader, are smart enough to be the best judge of this. Come up with possible methods to try out the ’20 second’ strategy. Then, choose which of those seem practical and try them out. If you like the results, keep going. If not, forget it and try some others.

4.2. Planning ahead

The 20 second strategy actively seeks the path of least resistance in order to get results. We’re now coming to another strategy with a different, but complementary purpose to the previous one. It encourages us to take fundamental decisions about when and in what circumstances you take them. To give a couple of examples: deciding to only drink alcohol at the weekend and not driving after a couple of beers.

The way to better habits can be easy or difficult. There are nevertheless almost always options and temptations, whichever way you go. In most cases, the options and their risks are quite predictable. In other words, more often than not we can see them coming.

Planning ahead is particularly successful in the first few days of trying to break a habit. Why? The habits we wish to change are still very much ‘burned’ into our brains. Leaving decision-making to the last minute is not in our best interest. Deliberate planning ahead makes rewiring the habits of our brain easier. Let’s suppose that out of habit we snack on sugary cakes and wish we could only find a way to eat healthier. Even so, we leave decision-making up to chance, and guess what, we’ll probably continue to ask for the same again (a nice, sugary cake). What we need to do is decide beforehand what we are going to buy – fruit, for example. Making our mind up before helps us get out of bad habits, going against the hard-wiring of our brain. As the days go by, we’ll start forging new neuronal paths thus making the need to plan ahead less and less of a must.

Where we can really make a difference to our routines is at work. Reducing the number of choices can be good for us, for two reasons. Firstly, we take less time making decisions because we have already planned them in advance. Secondly, the decisions we actually take are better.

Let’s imagine we come to the conclusion that we spend too much time checking for new messages in our inbox. Deciding to check for email three times a day at a specific hour is a good strategy. On the one hand, we save time by not having to think about it. On the other, planning ahead helps us have a clearer head when we do check email.

So, make full use of planning ahead, when changing the habits of a lifetime.

5. Conclusion

The key to making new habits work is to establish rituals and then stick to them. This helps these actions create new neuronal paths until these too are ‘burned’ into our brains. If we repeat a certain behaviour type day after day, it will become a habit no matter what.

The key to making new habits work is to establish rituals and then stick to them. Intelligenthq

Willpower is an important tool in any process of change. However, willpower can just as easily run out. For this reason, changing habits should have other recourses other than just willpower to fall back on.

We humans tend to opt for the path of least resistence. In other words, we generally resort to behaviour that demands less time and effort to start. The 20 second strategy can help make breaking bad habits easier. Its aim is to make desirable behaviour simpler to achieve, while complicating the undesirable, keeping distractions at bay.

You could (and should) take measures to ensure your path to changing the habits of a lifetime will be an easier one. However, while on the path to reform, you will still need to make decisions and resist temptations no matter what precautions you take. Planning ahead can keep us on the right track towards change, without succumbing to temptation on our way.

Good luck with changing the habits of a lifetime! However, don’t leave it all to chance. sorte (na sorte ou na vontade?). Make use of the strategies suggested here. They both will help you make the change, as long as you tailor them to your needs.

Recommended Reading

Achor, Shawn (2011). The Happiness Advantage, Virgin Books, Great Britain.

Further Reading

Fredrickson, Barbara (2012). Positivity, Oneworld Publications, Great Britain.

Hanson, Rick,  Mendius, Richard (2009). Budda´s Brain: the practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom. New Harbinger Publications, U.S.A.

Rao, Srikumar S. (2010). Happiness at work, McGraw-Hill, U.S.A..

One response to “The Art of Changing the Habits Of A Lifetime – Part Three”

  1. An article which makes you think and ponder, by helping you readdress those old habits and create new ones.

    Thank you Dinis

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