Good habits are like a well-oiled machine: When tuned properly, a machine can produce a shit load of products in a very short period of time. You don’t have to worry about blocking its social media account, teaching it discipline, or explaining one more time the whole process. You just push a button and the algorithms inside start executing – the same task, over and over again. For better or worse, we’re not machines and we can’t overwork them when it comes down to doing simple tasks. But if we want to improve our lives, lose weight, write a book, and get the best out of life, we need to acquire one specific skill machines are designed to do – automation.
Despite the huge amount of articles talking about multitasking, the brain can pay attention to one specific task at a time. For this reason, our mind is constantly trying to automate things. This is how habits are formed. We do things regularly > They become a routine > The brain can rest.
The problem is when we don’t know what we do on autopilot. Or worse, when we don’t want to accept that some of our daily routines are harmful. And because we are not aware of our bad habits or because we don’t think that injecting daily doses of unknown substance is harmful, along with smoking, drinking, eating a bowl of ice cream when our boyfriend cheats on us, we won’t be able to fight these self-sabotaging patterns and eventually replace them with better ones.
In this post, you’re gonna learn the basics of human habits. Why it’s important to have healthy habits, how to identify the patterns that are messing with your progress, and what you can do today to start improving your daily routine.
Why Having Good Habits is Important?
In short: Good habits can make you ultra successful, muscular, healthier, Instagram famous.
No, really. All must-follow Instagram models have one thing in common – besides using a shit load of make-up and a gazillion of filter combinations – they post frequently. If you ask someone in the official IG community about the secret behind their success, they’ll all say this: You have to post regularly. Like 3 times a day, and some more.
If you don’t know already, doing the same thing, over and over again, is the only way to make your dreams a reality. In contrast, bad habits can fuck up your life.
High-achievers, famous athletes, and self-proclaimed Instagram models are all talking about the same thing, conscious or not, habits. If you master your habits you’ve mastered your field. Even though I hate to say it, those IG spammers who are only famous for being famous are actually right. If you want to really make it, overcome your fears, lose weight, write a book, cross the Plateau of Latent Potential, become famous online or offline, whatever, you need to polish your habits game.
Let me explain how habits work in your favor. I’ll stick with the Instagram example since that’s something most people relate to.
You take one good picture > You add hashtags > You post it > People like your photo > You get more followers.
However, only one good picture won’t get you lucrative deals from foreign products. That’s why, you repeat the process again: You take another good picture > You add hashtags > You post it > People like your photo > You get more followers.
The more you post, the more followers you’ll get. The more followers you get… Well, you know what happens next… free products; selfies with strangers; more time wasted taking pictures so you can keep up with the demand.
Apply the same routine in every industry and you have yourself a winning model.
- Wanna lose weight? You train daily and maintain a healthy diet.
- Wanna write a book? You should write daily regardless of how uncreative you feel.
- Wanna build a house in the woods? You have to work every single day so you can construct your own personal villa.
- Wanna be a famous YouTubber? You need to shoot videos on a daily basis and post them as frequently as possible online.
In a nutshell, it looks like this: You do something once, you suck at the task. You do it 1000 times, you’re are an expert. So, if you to improve your life you need to train your body the routines you want – insert good habits in your life. If you do this, you’ll undoubtedly succeed in the field you want.
How Habits Work?
In order to master your habits, add better ones in your life, you need to first realize the following: The mind and the body always lean towards feeling good. To our disappointment, most of the things that feel good are bad for both our health and our mind. Kind of by default we’re predisposed to bad behavior.
You don’t believe me?
Look around. How many people you know who smoke, drink, overeat, cheat their partners, postpone important tasks?
Rational people, who know what are the consequences of cigarettes continue to smoke, why? Because it feels good, that’s why.
Since the mind wants to feel good, all the time as mentioned, it always looks for ways to nudge the inner emotions. So, habits kind of work like this:
You feel bored (cue) > You desire to feel better (craving) > You light up a cigarette (response) > The nicotine inside the cigarette makes you feel good (reward).
The brain record this task in the following way: When bored > Smoke.
But as a former smoker, I can safely say that we smoke for many other reasons. Here are just a few: You’re nervous about the upcoming test, you smoke; You’re thinking of talking to a gorgeous girl and you get nervous about it, you smoke; You just had laid, you smoke…
Eventually, we become a walking chimney and smoking becomes a large portion of our daily life.
We associate smoking with different emotions but in reality, it all boils down to this: Cue. Craving. Response. Reward. This four-step pattern is the backbone of every habit.
- Cue: This is what triggers the brain to choose one of the recorded actions. The moment you start feeling bored (the cue) the brain predicts the reward. This leads to the second step:
- Craving: This is what fuels every habit. Your inner desire to feel good is making you reach out for your smokes. Without a craving for a change, there is no habit. But you don’t actually crave for the smoking part, you crave for the feelings coming afterward.
- Response: This is what you do in response to the above. If we continue the example mentioned above, the act of smoking is the response part. This is the most important part of every habit. This is where we can make improvements.
- Reward: What you get in return. Your prize at the end of the road. In our case, the satisfying feeling of smoke in our lungs.
What You Can Do Today To Break Some of Your Bad Habits And Acquire Good Ones
Imagine your brain as a computer with limited resources. Since it can’t process constantly new information because of its limitations, it’s looking for ways to cut corners. Our habits come to the rescue here. The brain records a series of actions and transforms them into automated routines without us realizing this. This is necessary in order for our brain to function properly and to have enough free memory to make valid decisions and watch another funny video.
During our life spawn, we acquire a lot of good habits. We learn to brush our teeth, to study, to read, to take showers, to exercise, to drive a car, to ride a bicycle. Unfortunately, we adopt some nasty automatic behaviors as well: smoking, drinking, eating junk food, spending an awful amount of time online, buying things we don’t actually need.
The simplest thing you can do, today, if you want to break your bad habits and install new ones in your brain is to make the bad behavior difficult to implement. Or in other words, to work on your response.
The cue is something you can’t fight. I mean, if you’re a smoker, you will surely feel bored, sad, tempted to light up a cigarette when you stand alone and you wait for your Uber. The same goes if you have problems with eating junk food. The cue is hunger, food, something you absolutely need to survive. Something you can’t go without. What you can change though, is your response when you’re hungry. Instead of ordering three double cheeseburgers with a pound of fries next time you’re hungry, you can do the following:
3 Simple Steps
1. Add Obstacles
Whenever you face a repeated problem, your brain begins to automate the process of solving it: You’re hungry > You eat. The problem is when feelings come. Since junk food tastes better, by repeatedly eating donuts, you tell your brain to desire sugar and fat. The sequence transforms like this: You’re hungry > You eat junk food.
What you can do to lower the intake of calories is to add an obstacle(s) between the above two:
You’re hungry > You add obstacle > You eat something healthy.
The secret ingredient of creating good habits is to make the bad behavior impossible for execution. Add barriers, obstacles, lock doors, hide keys, all sorts of things so you can stop yourself from doing stupid things:
- You want to quit smoking: Don’t carry cigarettes with you;
- You want to lose weight: Throw away all the crappy food from your fridge and order only healthy snacks;
- You want to exercise more: Place your gear somewhere where you can see it;
- You want to read more: Remove social media from your phone, carry a book with you, place one on your nightstand, install apps for reading;
If you don’t have anything fatty in your fridge, only green salad and soya, you will be doomed to eat healthily. If this obstacle is not enough, disable all fast food apps from your phone and don’t drive near fast-food restaurants. The more obstacles you add, the better.
2. Design Your Home (and Office) For Your New Habit
People often do things not because they really want to, but because of where they are around them. For instance, if there is a bowl of cookies right next to you, you’ll surely eat cookies even if you’re not hungry. However, with one simple shift, you can make huge improvements. You can replace the cookies with fruits. With this simple hack, you’ll lower the sugar intake and improve your diet.
This applies to everything. As James Clear states in his book Atomic Habits, “Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.”
Even though we’re unique, our environment has a lot to do with how we’ll develop as people. That’s why your chances of becoming a doctor are higher if both of your parents are doctors. In contrast, if your elders love to gamble, smoke and don’t pay attention to how you do at school, you might end up begging on the streets for a dose of white powder.
3. Replace The Bad Behavior With Good One
Adding obstacles will help, but we all know what happens after a few days, we’re back to our favorite restaurant – the local McDonald’s.
That’s why, we need to replace the previously rewarding behavior with such that also feels successful to the brain.
Sugar and fat immediately reward our brain. Where the benefits of eating healthy and exercising come afterward – you don’t immediately lose weight and feel better, these things happen over time. That’s why it’s of major importance to make eating healthy (the new habit) feel exciting to us.
A simple, yet powerful thing is to keep track of your junk-food-free days – you can use a habit tracking journal.
Just add one cross for each day you don’t eat burgers on your calendar. This will give you an immediate reward. You see the cross and you feel better about yourself. You repeat this for five days and now you don’t want to end the streak.
Yes, it’s not much. But if you’re willing to wait for the rewards coming after these initial boring, no-sugary days, you’ll soon get the bigger payoff.
Some Closing Thoughts
The quote below basically summarizes habits:
“It almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa… Often, the sweeter the first fruit of a habit, the more bitter are its later fruits.” Frédéric Bastiat
Books, researches, studies, doctors, and famous bloggers all say the same thing: People who are better at delaying gratification achieve more in this busy world.
So, if you delay watching Netflix and get more work done, you’ll move closer to your goals. If you don’t buy sweets and chips when you’re grocery shopping, you’ll most probably eat healthier food when you get home. In a nutshell, success in nearly every field requires you to ignore an immediate reward in favor of a delayed reward. To do so, you need to add more good habits to your life and cleanse the bad routines.
Now it’s your turn.
Think about this: What are you doing to break the bad habits from your life? And what are you doing to add more good ones?
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