How to Change Habits in 4 StepsAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit" ~ Aristotle
There are times in life when you have to change some things. You realize that you’ve reached your limit in some kind of situation and you can no longer continue doing things the way you were doing them. It may be that eating with anxiety and without measure has led you to have a body mass that makes you feel uncomfortable, that living a sedentary and unhealthy life has led you to run out of breath every time you climb a few stairs, or that living a disorganized and stressful life has distanced you from your friendships or from your dreams…
You shouldn’t wait until you reach an extreme situation to change course. If you change much earlier, when you start to realize it, the changes will be easier to achieve and maintain. How many times have you thought you should exercise more, eat healthier or quit smoking? How many times have you tried to be more organized, efficient and productive?
Yes, easier said than done. Deep down, we all want to have a better, fuller, more satisfying life. However, changing habits is really difficult.
Changing a habit is usually about eliminating a habit that affects you negatively while developing a new one that will be positive for your life. It’s not just about overcoming laziness and getting on with it, as many people believe. To make a change you need to replace things you are used to, and that make you feel very comfortable, with new things that at the moment don’t fit very well with the current “you”.
Your whole being will fight to get back to the old ways, and that’s something that produces a lot of stress. The problem is that our capacity for self-control is limited and when it’s exhausted, we give up trying. To increase the chances of success, experts recommend following these steps in the process of eliminating a bad habit or establishing a new one:
- Be fully aware of the habit you want to eliminate or establish. Clearly define the beneficial impact it will have on your life, because you will have to go back to it find motivation in those moments when your whole being is asking you to give up. Making the decision with the right arguments will increase your chances of success. Hey! And don’t try to change several habits at once — changing one is already a big enough challenge.
- Make a commitment to make it happen. If you are not seriously committed, you will not achieve it. What are you going to do to make sure you make it? Define a realistic action plan (a set of actions and routines that you will maintain for a period of at least three months) and commit yourself to do everything that will help you achieve it. Share it with people who can support you; making it public will help you reinforce that commitment.
- Take action. Execute the plan you have devised. You must carry out the defined actions and routines without fail, in a strict manner. Think about it constantly, do every day what’s necessary to carry it out. Just doing something once in a while won’t work. When you are not thinking about it, your old habits will take over. With each step you take, give yourself a small reward to reinforce your motivation. Perseverance is the key to success. The good news is that once you’ve managed to establish a habit, you won’t have to make any effort, it will become second nature in your life.
- Don’t give up. Surely throughout the process there will be moments of weakness, when you will wonder if so much sacrifice is worth it. Revisit the reasons for change that you defined at the beginning. Think again about the kind of person you want to be. Seek support from people close to you to encourage you to continue.
Habits are behaviors that we do repeatedly, practically unconsciously. Many experts say that a month can be enough time to establish a habit, although personally I think it depends a lot on the type of habit. So act, practice, persevere, repeat… And if you fail, wait a while, catch your breath and try again.