Good habits can change your life! But how do we make positive changes and more importantly how do we make them a permanent fixture? Many people believe it’s down to willpower and research shows this can be called for initially, but when we don’t get immediate gratification, willpower can be quite fickle as a long-term fix.
Sustained behaviour changes come with building good habits – they are self reinforcing. Granted they are not always easy to start but once in place they have a life of their own because they stop being conscious behaviours and become automatic, We form mental associations when we repeat actions over and over again. We then stop thinking and just do!
In many aspects of our lives our actions are not being driven by conscious and deliberate intention – a lot of our practices are just on autopilot. If we look at our eating patterns for example much of what we do is habitual, where we shop, what we buy, what we cook and how we cook it. We tend to shop and eat depending on the routines we have developed.
Breaking Bad Behaviours
We are more inclined to repeat actions that are easy to perform and have an element of fun to them. Anything that reduces the struggle and the stress is going to make habits more likely to form. If we want to build something into a habit we have to make it as unconscious and as automatic as possible. The more mindful we are of an action as we perform it, the more capable we are of breaking a bad habit.
One of the reasons we develop many bad habits in the first place is because they make us feel good even if it’s just temporarily. Habits are powerfully shaped by short term rewards, our brains respond with dopamine when we get rewarded and that dopamine helps us to build the association of habit in our brain. So it’s key when trying to form a healthy behaviour to link it with a short term reward. It can be anything that means something to you, such as taking pride in the fact that you are taking a positive step, or treating yourself to a great sound track when you exercise.
Keeping Things Simple
Sometimes we also have to scheme and trick ourselves into making things a little easier to help form a good habit. So for example, it can be easier to try saving money online as opposed to more traditional methods. Add to this the bonus of greater saving rates , easier access to our funds and the ability to monitor our savings daily if we choose – the short term reward box is also well and truly ticked.
Anything we do for a long while and consistently enough eventually becomes a habit, and once it does, we no longer have to put much effort into it. We tend to act on autopilot doing what we already do because it’s easier. If we structure a good habit into our day we take away the stress of decision making.
A Time For Change
When crisis hits it can be the perfect catalyst for reinvention. As we head into the New Year, we can take this opportunity to try new things and re-think how we want to be going forward in our lives. With a small amount of initial discipline, we can create a new habit that requires little effort to maintain. By programming our behaviours as new habits we can take the struggle out of long-term change.