“We are what we repeat every day. Excellence is no longer an act, but a habit. – Aristotle. Our daily lives are often a series of habits that we repeat every day, a shackled existence, chained by a slow accumulation of our previous actions. But habits can change, as difficult as it may seem at times. I am a living example: with very small, infinitesimal steps, I changed an endless list of habits. I quit smoking, stopped compulsive spending, got out of debt, started running, getting up earlier, eating healthier, becoming thrifty, simplifying my life, becoming organized and focused, and productive, I ran two marathons and some triathlons, I launched some successful blogs… in short, you see where I’m getting.
And although I have written about the habit changes many times, today I am going to put together the best tips in one quick guide, for those who are about to start fresh and begin something and those who want to change old habits.
Keep it simple
Changing a habit is not so complicated. Even though the number of tips below will seem overwhelming, there are actually only a few things to know. All the rest is to help you accomplish your goal and change your unwanted habits.
- Plan your project in writing.
- Identify your triggers and habits to replace them.
- Concentrate on replacing these habits each time one of the triggers occurs, for about 30 days.
That’s all. We will discuss each of these steps in more detail and more on the checklist below.
The memory aid to change one’s habits
The following is a compilation of tips to help you change a habit and start fresh. Do not be overwhelmed – always remember the simple steps just above. The rest is just a set of ways to help you better change your habit.
- Change only one habit at a time
It is extremely important. Changing one’s habits is difficult, even just one. If you do more than one habit at a time, you are preparing for failure. Stay simple, just concentrate, and give yourself the best chance of success. By the way, that’s why good New Year’s resolutions often fail – people try to change more than one thing at a time.
- Start small
The smaller it is, the better, because changing a habit is difficult, and trying to do too much is one of the keys to the disaster. Do you want to exercise? Start with only 5 or 10 minutes. Do you want to get up earlier? Try 10 minutes earlier for now. Otherwise, you will only take half-habits.
- The 30-day challenge
In my experience, it takes about 30 days to change a habit, if you are focused and regular. This is an approximate figure that may vary according to people and habits. You will often read that a magical period of “21 days” is needed to change a habit, but it is a myth without any proof. Seriously – try to find proof of this with a scientific experiment. A more recent study has shown that 66 days is a more correct number. But 30 days is a good number to start. Your challenge: keep up to this habit for 30 days, and post an update of your daily progress on a forum.
- Put it in writing
Just saying that you are going to change your habits is not a sufficient commitment. You must put it in writing, on paper. Write what habit you are going to change.
- Make a plan
As you write, take advantage of it to make a plan. This will guarantee that you are really ready. The plan should include your motivations, your reasons for the change, the obstacles, the triggers, the supports and all the means that will allow you to succeed. More info below.
- Know your motivations, and be sure they are strong
Write them down on your plan. You must clearly know why you are doing this, and the benefits that flow from it must be clear to you. If you only do it out of vanity, although it’s a good motivation, it’s usually not enough. We need something stronger. Personally, I stopped smoking for my wife and children. I made them the promise. I knew that if I did not stop smoking, not only would they feel betrayed by their father or husband, but they would be more likely to smoke too (my wife smoked and stopped with me).
- Do not start hastily
In your plan, write a date. Maybe a week or two after the date of writing the plan. When you start immediately (like today), you do not give the project the seriousness it deserves. When you have an “end date” or a “start date”, this gives importance to this date. Tell everyone your end date (or start date). Post it on your wall or on your computer screen. Make it a great day. It increases your anticipation and excitement and helps you prepare.
- Put all your obstacles in writing
If you’ve ever tried to change this habit before (it’s very likely), you’ve probably failed. Think about this failure, and find out what prevented you from doing it. Write down every obstacle you have encountered, and what might happen. Then note how you plan to overcome them. This is the key: note your solution before the obstacles arrive, so that you will be prepared.
- Identify the triggers
What situation usually triggers this habit? For the smoking habit, for example, triggers can be when you get up in the morning, when you have a coffee, drink alcohol, stressful meetings, going out with friends, driving, etc. Most habits have multiple triggers. Identify them all and write them in your plan.
- For each trigger, identify a positive habit that you will do instead
When you have just woken up in the morning, instead of smoking, what are you going to do? And when will you be stressed? When will you go out with friends? Some positive habits, which could include: exercise, meditation, deep breathing, organization and more.
“A habit is a habit. It is not by throwing it out of the window that we get rid of it, but by pushing it towards the exit one step after the other. – Mark Twain
- Have a backup plan
To whom will you turn when you have an irrepressible desire? Write down these people in your plan. Participating in online forums is also a great tool – I went to a forum to stop smoking when I quit, and it really helped me. Do not underestimate the power of support – it’s really important.
- Ask for help
Ask your family, friends, and colleagues to support you. Ask them for help, and let them know how important it is. Find a support group near you. Join online forums where people are trying to stop. When you have very strong desires or are going through difficult times, call a member of your support group to help you. Do not stop smoking, for example, without referring to your online support group. Do not take a drop of alcohol before calling your support to alcoholics anonymous.
Often our habits are so entrenched that we do not even realize we have them. Whether your bad habit is a minor concern, such as constantly biting off your nails or something more serious, such as smoking, you will have to make continuous efforts and organize yourself to break the cycle. Do not hesitate to ask a professional for help if you cannot do it alone.