7 Ways To Create Lasting Habits In Our Lives.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle
I sat reflecting on my life, and all I could think of was that I had become the total sum of my good habits and, unfortunately, my bad ones too.
We create most of our habits unconsciously and then watch them take over the direction of our lives. And we wonder why we don’t stick to a regular writing practice or follow the new diet to lose those extra few pounds.
I am a great advocate of self-motivation with the ultimate goal to grow in many different ways. However, motivation can only do so much to make us change as it gives that initial boost, but it’s only through conscious, consistent practice, or habits that we can achieve the change we crave.
We usually focus so much on the goal that we lose track of the actual work we need to do to get there. The grandiosity of the goal overwhelms us, and we often give up on it quite easily. It’s by creating habits and breaking them into small parts that can drive us to that final destination.
Our minds have two parts. The conscious mind is the creative one and the one we have access to. It is completely controlled by the other part — the sub-conscious mind.
This sub-conscious mind is like a recording machine, which takes in all the information from our conditioning, the environment, and our behavior, and it then adds it all up to direct our final actions.
The only way we can affect any change in our lives is to address the sub-conscious mind, and the best way to do this is by repetition and by creating habits. Just think of how we brush our teeth every morning without even thinking, this has been repeated so that it has become part of the information that we’ve embedded in the mind.
Over the last 50 years, science and numerous psychological experiments have proved that there is real power in creating and practicing habits. They confirm that a habit takes anything from 21 days to 60 days to be formed.
And if we stick with them, then it will contribute to creating discipline and patience in our life, two attributes that can lead to an accomplished life.
They help guide us to that best quality of all — persistence. As we dive into our practice, we increase our mental stamina, and we tend to finish whatever we started. Finishing a book or a designated run sends a signal to our brain that we finish everything we start.
Habits will lead us to the present moment where real joy sits. The more time we spend in deliberate practice, where we shut our monkey minds off and perform the habits, the greater our link is to the creative, conscious mind.
We can create habits in seven simple steps, as stated below:
1. Set a trigger: We need to set a trigger or reminder for us to initiate the behavior that we want to start; for example, I prepare all my running gear before I sleep so that I can easily notice them when I get up in the morning.
2. Create a routine or practice: The routine is the actual behavior we take on, to get us to the desired action. We should start with small steps so that it would be difficult to fail and attractive to get into action; for example, I started my daily push-ups practice with five, and I’m now up to 30.
3. Set a reward: Set up a reward system so that we benefit immediately after the behavior. This reward need not be a holiday to Las Vegas after doing 30 push-ups, but some good positive talk to appreciate our good work.
The brain will store the good feelings we associated with the behavior, and so the next time we are engaging in the habit those same good feelings come up; for example, I reward myself with my only coffee in the morning straight after my daily meditation.
4. Find a keystone habit: There is usually one habit that if we stick to religiously would help pull the rest of our life in order; for example, when I get up early before the sun comes out, then my whole day unfolds beautifully as I meditate well, journal crisply and become more productive at work.
5. Schedule the habits: We need to set a clear intention with a time and a day, just like we would with any regular appointment. Our habits need time and a place to live in our life; for example, want to run regularly? Running seven km on Tuesday 6 a.m. must be marked clearly on the calendar.
Special Note: If there is not enough time for the practice, then just reduce the time we spend on it. Don’t abandon it, as it would break the pattern we create in our brain; for example, run for 15 minutes and not the full 60-minute run.
6. Be accountable: Announce the practice to friends, family or anyone who can hold us accountable. If the habit is imperative, then get a coach to help.
This way we are more likely to stick to the new habit; for example, I joined an online writing group to journal more than 750 words a day and we are all accountable to each other in a very clever online process.
7. Design our environment for success: Put up posters, pictures of the habits we want to create in our offices and homes. Read articles or books and talk to everyone about them too.
This association with the habit will reinforce it into the synapses of our brain; for example, I have put up visual pictures of all my habits in front of my writing desk and where I spend a lot of my time.
“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing. There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.” ~ Annie Dillard
Doing the same thing every day for the last 20 years doesn’t sound exciting, but who would describe Picasso’s life or that of Kahlil Gibran as ordinary? They followed the same routine and practice throughout their lives.
They would write or paint every day as part of their scheduled practice and in some days their work was average, but on others it was dazzling. Who remembers their poor work after decades of practicing their craft? No one, as the many magnificent pieces have overshadowed the inferior ones.
That’s how their hearts purred, and their souls sang, but they needed that discipline of following through on their habits.
And only then did it become effortless for them to produce magical pieces of art that we have come to love so much.
Mo Issa is an entrepreneur and a born-again writer. He finally gets that he’s a spiritual being having an earthly human experience. Mo loves Hemingway, Hesse and Buddha. He’s a soon-to-be yogi, and runs when he can sense the rain coming down. Mo has powerful conversations with anyone and everyone, reminding them of the story “The Death of Ivan Ilych” by Tolstoy where, on his deathbed, he says: “What if I lived all my life wrong?” He recently spoke at TedxAccra about Awakening to his Aliveness. Mo writes everyday when the clock strikes 6 in the morning, and has recently been published by both Rebelle Society and Elephant Journal. He also blogs regularly at Mo-Issa.com.