Humans are creatures of habit and we have evolved over thousands of years to like routine and predictability. So most of us have a routine that we follow every single day. Those are usual routines or habits, so now you want to know how to develop powerful habits.
Think about your everyday routine. Get up, shower, have breakfast while checking emails or the news then head to work? The evening routine, stopping at a shop for anything needed, cooking dinner, watching TV and/or checking social media before heading to bed. Perhaps you read in bed or watch more TV and probably go to bed/sleep at roughly the same time every day.
This is no coincidence. This comes down to the way we are hardwired and the way our brains work. In cavemen times routine kept us safe and alive.
Repeating the same actions or thoughts over and over again essentially means that we are repeatedly using the same neural pathways and causing the same connections to light up and fire. As we do this, those connections become ‘myelinated’.That means that they are insulated by myelin sheaths, thereby becoming stronger and stronger. If you repeat particular actions often enough they become ingrained, automatic habits that we are no longer conscious of doing.
Rhythms and Patterns
Our biology is based around rhythms and patterns. The sun rises at a certain time and this triggers the release of cortisol and nitric oxide. These neurotransmitters trigger a cascade of activity throughout the brain which makes us more awake and active. Then we eat and this slows us down slightly again and gets us ready for work.
After 4pm, our lunch settles in and we start to become slower and more sluggish thanks to a dose of melatonin and serotonin. By the time the sun starts to go down, we are producing more melatonin and the build up of adenosine in our brain is making it harder and harder to think.
Changing the routine
If you get up at a different time, the sun rises earlier or later or you eat a bigger meal, the whole routine can go out of whack and you’ll feel out of sorts.
This is what causes jet lag and it’s why one solution to jet lag involves altering your meal timings. In short, the more we repeat the same behaviour over and over, the harder it is for us to change that behaviour. If the behaviour in question involves smoking, then this is bad news. If the behaviour involves going to the gym, then it’s great news for your fitness and health.
Harnessing the power of habit can be a powerful tool in helping you to get whatever you want from life: whether that’s a better body or a richer bank account.
So how do you go about forming the good habits…
How to Develop Powerful Habits
Creating New Habits
The 30 Day Rule
Some say the best way to create a new habit is to repeat that action for thirty days. But this varies depending upon which book you read or who you are listening too. I have seen 60 days, 66 days and 21 days to break habits.
Whichever length of time you choose, if you can keep up the new behaviour for that time you will have ingrained the behaviour strongly enough enough for it to be a habit.
Is this true?
Thirty days would theoretically be long enough for you to rehearse an action long enough for it to become ingrained at least somewhat, but that ‘magic number’ is actually very much arbitrary. There is no reason that doing something for thirty days should be any better than doing something for 29 days or 31 days.
What this idea does have going for it is anecdotal evidence: according to research, this indeed seems to be accurate and if you can stick to a new behavior for that long, you’ll at least be on the right track. This makes it a little easier setting out too. If you know that you have to exercise first thing in the morning for thirty days only, then that can be easier to stomach than thinking you have to do it permanently.
Struggling to floss your teeth every day, even just for those 30 days? Then in that case, you might want to try using something called ‘micro habits’. The idea of a micro habit is essentially to hack the 30 day trial by finding a way to stick to your habit for that long much easier and then extrapolating the results. To explain, a micro habit means breaking down your new intended habit into something that is extremely easy and simple to stick to. So, for example, your goal might now be to floss just one tooth and to floss a different tooth each night.
This is a two second job so there should be no difficulty in sticking to it. But as with a ‘full sized’ habit, you should find that this micro habit becomes deeply ingrained after a while and that eventually you find it easy to stick to. Now all you have to do is to extend that habit so that you’re flossing all your teeth! A more realistic version of this might be if you wanted to write a novel, in which case you could aim to write just one line per night. Likewise, if you wanted to get into shape, then you could aim to do just 20 press ups every day.
This works best if what you’re doing is still useful in its own right. If you only ever did 20 press ups, then you would still notice some improvement for example. Likewise, one sentence per night would still eventually lead to an entire book! Try to avoid a scenario where you might look at your micro habit and feel that it is ‘pointless’ so you can just ignore it. The great thing about micro habits is that right from the start, you are going to find you sometimes end up doing more..
Another tip for creating a new habit is to try attaching it to your old habits and your surroundings. In other words, if you want to create a habit of flossing your teeth, then a good option is to attach this onto a habit you already stick to: such as brushing your teeth!
Likewise, if you want to get into the habit of ironing your shirts, pick a specific point in the day for it to come after – such as making your morning tea. This works because it connects the new behavior to old ones inside your brain. You have a network of neurons that fires whenever you make your morning tea.
Now, when that network of neurons fire, they should also cause the new network – the ironing shirts network – to light up. The two are connected. This also works on a practical level: you need to find a convenient time and place for your new habit. You also need to know that the time and place is always going to be convenient.
Keeping your environment and your surroundings consistent is also important as all the things in your periphery can help to encourage your habit. This is why when trying to break a bad habit, the advice is always to change your surroundings immediately. If you’re trying to give up alcohol for instance, or drugs, one of the first things you’re told to do is to stop hanging out in the same places and with the same people. These have become associated with the habit – these are now ‘triggers’.
But if it’s a good habit, then triggers are a good thing!
What about work?
It is very important to form good work habits, especially if you work from home. There can be many distractions and when you first work from home it can be hard to stay focused.
At first family and friends will consider it means you are available. This is where a good routine and good habits formed early on will be invaluable and keep you motivated. The right mindset is important too.
The Power of Routine
One action is a habit but if you string these together, then you have a routine. This is incredibly important for accomplishing goals and if you can build a routine for yourself that contains multiple good habits, then you’ll find that you massively enhance your likelihood of success in all areas.
If you are going to start a new training program then you must know when and where you will work out. And you should ‘hang’ this new habit off of your existing routine and actions. If you simply say you are going to train ‘five days a week’ then this is not good enough: you’ll find yourself putting it off, forgetting or feeling too tired.
Instead then, find a slot in your routine where you can always make space. Likewise, if you want to stick to a healthy diet, then you need to identify when you are going to make the food and how you are going to eat it. Finding the right motivation can make a big difference.
Creating a routine is a powerful way to accomplish your goals then. BUT don’t forget that the value in life comes from mixing things up and trying new things. Don’t let yourself move backwards, or you will start to atrophy and stop growing. Habits help you get to where you’re going, but don’t forget to enjoy the view along the way.
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