Big personalities like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and countless others claims that the reason behind their success is their habits. From the very early age they have been doing things in a particular fashion and following certain habits.
It's not about them only, everyone of us feels the same, if we had been following certain habits a couple of years back , then by now our lives might turned differently. And thoughts like these are perfectly normal. But often time, we find ourselves not sticking up to a habit for a long time, we call it off with some petty reasons.
For an ordinary person following a certain habit is difficult due to several reasons but not being aware of how habits work, is one of many. And surprisingly many of us still don't know what makes a habit and why a bad habit is so easy to stick with?
Here, in this article we will try to unravel the mystery behind the formation of habit as much as possible and try to explain how can we make a working and lasting habit.
Before starting any further, I would like to inform you that, if you are familiar with Hindi language then we highly recommend listening to our special episode on habits (here) by reality shit podcast (this article will not cover all the elements of the episode).
This article will include:
What is a habit and how it is formed?
Understanding habits is not difficult, but building a lasting habit, is really some task. We are living in a world where our attention span has shrunken to an alarming level. Today a person focuses on a topic for only 8 seconds on an average. Building a habit with this level of diminished attention span is really challenging. But, if we understand how habit works then we can make great improvements.
All in all, habits are tasks performed by an individual on a regular basis without much cognitive thinking to achieve results in a short period of time with errors as few as possible. We all perform different tasks as habits like eating, brushing our teeth, getting up and countless others. Although these habits are essential for us to live and perform our daily toil. The reward/result of these habits is instant. Like if feel hungry, we eat food, resulting into accomplishment of task and getting a ln instant reward. But, we cannot stick to these habits alone to make our lives successful, right?
No doubt, we need food for our survival but to get food on the table we need resources like money, and to earn money we must posses certain skills. Since acquiring a skill takes long time and incessant effort. And it's not an easy task either to keep out motivations high for such a long time. To address this, we must build a habit around these skills.
Now we know what is a habit and why do need them, let's look into the steps to build a new habit.
According to the book Atomic Habits by James Clear (buy a copy from here), habits can be broken down into 4 stages- cue, craving, action and reward.
Allow me to give you a brief understanding of these 4 stages.
Lets say this morning you watched the Baywatch movie and you thought, "damn! look at those chiseled physique of Zack Efron", and you decided to build a physique like him. This is the initial response from you and this is what we call a cue for a habit. No matter what dreams you have, they all have a trigger or as we are say cue, which attracts us to pursue the dream. These triggers are the results of the people and the environment we live in.
In the above example we can see that if we want that chiseled physique, we must workout every single day. And for that, we must either join a gym or start a workout routine at home. This decision that we take after the trigger initiation is what we call craving.
Then we finally enroll ourselves in a Gym or start working out at home to get our desired goal.
We must keep doing the action to reach the fourth stage i.e. reward. Dopamine is the primary chemical we get in a reward. But, unfortunately in the example we discussed above, most of us stop going to the gym because either we feel frustrated if we can't see any results or loose our motivations within a few days, because some of us can't wait patiently. This attitude of ours breaks the 4 stages path to achieve a lasting habit.
What is the difference between a bad and a good habit?
A good habit can be classified as something which can add values to our lives like meditation (read more about meditation) and on the contrary bad habits are pretty strait forward, every one struggles with it. But what makes these two habits so different and why bad habits are so easy to stick with?
The answer to the following questions lie in the 4th stage of habit building i.e. reward. The reward of a good habit tends to test our patience and bad habit is entirely based on instant reward mechanism.
Let's say a smoker is a habitual smoker because whenever he/she smokes he/she gets an instant rush, which is the reward part of the habit. The earlier we get a reward from a habit the more easier it will be for to sustain it. And while building a good habit the reward seems invisible, resulting into lack of motivations. But here are some solutions that we should consider while building a long term habit.
Solutions for making a lasting habit
Following solution are not effective until you follow them by heart and sometimes you have to implement multiple solutions in a single habit. let's briefly discuss them.
Reducing Friction: A friction is something which hinders your access to a particular habit. Let's say you want to read Power of subconscious mind by Joseph Murphy (buy a copy from here) but you keep the book somewhere on the shelve or in some other room. Then most likely you'll end up not reading it, Because there is too much friction between you and the book. To tackle this problem you must always keep your book in you sight. Simply by doing this your chances of finishing the book will increase dramatically.
Starting small and rewarding small:
Staring small means engaging into your habit for just 2 minutes (as James Clear mentioned in his book Atomic Habits), then you'll eventually end up spending more than 2 minutes to the task.
As we were discussing in the above example if we really want to finish our book then we just have to start by reading a page and rest will follow.
As we have mentioned earlier, the major reason behind the failure of a good habit is lack of instant reward. To resolve this issue, we can give ourselves smaller rewards for each successful mile stones. It can be anything from a day off per weak, a favourite TV show or a movie or anything as per your taste. Celebrating small feats is very helpful for starters, although, I personally recommend cultivating a strong will power instead, by understanding the root cause of the habit.
One unpleasant solution yet effective for some folks i.e. punishing oneself. Whenever we miss a certain task, we can cut our reward mechanisms and this can help our brain to train the punishment mechanism. Although punishing oneself is not a favourable option because chances are we'll end up feeling demotivated and exhausted.
But if you think you can handle this, then making someone else incharge of your punishment is an advisable option.
Stacking new habit over an old habit:
Let say you want to listen to more podcasts to increase your bucket of knowledge but you find yourself struggling to take out the time from your busy schedule. Then instead of allocating a new time for this you can stack it over an old habit like cooking or walking to your work. By this you can utilize your time while performing mundane tasks.
Keeping Track of you habit:
Some of you may be familiar with the term streak, since nowadays it's used by many mobile applications like Snapchat to make their user engaged. You can say it's the fancy name given to habit tracking.
It is one the most effective ways to sustain a habit, and I personally follow this strategy, I can tell you this for sure that if you'll follow this method by all you heart, it will give you great results.
To incorporate this solution, first make a to-do list on your phone, for example, reading for 30 minute (Day 01) and when you'll finish the task for the day, you just have to change it to day 02 before going to bed. Repeat this as long as you can, ultimately it will become your habit.
Including a habit partner:
Look for someone in your surrounding, who has the same goals as you do. You both can build a habit together and help each other to stay on track. But it's very important to choose a good partner who will align with your motivations and goals.
Using Modern Technologies:
There are apps for pretty much everything on the market nowadays. You can simply download a certain app specifically designed for habit tracking or you can use the to-do app on your phone ( I personally recommend to-do app for this with a habit tracking solution integrated as mentioned above for a better result).
Good habits are the bedrock of a successful life. If we can understand how can we make habits work and how can we make it sustainable, then there is no one out there we will stop us from achieving our dreams. Always remember, why have you started in the first place and it's a fact that you will not take care of yourself, no one will. Make your life worth remembering.
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The following article has been inspired from the Liberty Lens Network