Time to organise your habits!
We are what we do. Sounds simplistic, I know, but it’s true. What we do, repeatedly, ends up determining our lives. If we make bad decisions, or no decisions, and we end up with bad habits, we keep doing the same (wrong) things, over and over again. This accounts for so much of the drudgery of life – the fact that we have made bad decisions and allowed them to form into habits (or made no decisions when we really should have).
Organise your habits – they determine the course of your life
Think of smoking, drinking, nagging, complaining, giving up on things, overeating, and all the rest. They all started as bad decisions, or things we just allowed to happen by not making good decisions, and now they’ve almost taken over. If we smoke, or drink too much, or nag or complain endlessly, it’s not because we want to, it’s because we’re in the habit of doing these things, and bad habits are very, very hard things to break.
But that’s the interesting thing about habits – the negative thing about them (that they’re hard to break) can also be their strongest characteristic. If we focus, even if for only a fairly short time, and make it our business to change them, our habits can become a major asset.
Take smoking, for instance. We look on smoking as a bad habit, and one that’s extremely hard to break. But the fact is, we forged that habit quite unconsciously. We didn’t work at it. It wasn’t a struggle to become a regular smoker. It just happened! All we did was we kept doing it, repeatedly. We had one cigarette after another, maybe just a few a day at first, till after a little while it was ten a day, then in almost no time, twenty a day, then maybe more. But we didn’t work at it, it ‘just happened’.
That’s the way habits are forged – just by repetition, nothing more. So it’s quite possible to create a habit, or alter one, rather than just letting them happen all by themselves. If we take on something that we’d like to have as a habit, all we really have to do is keep on repeating that action, or that thought process until it becomes habitual. That’s all it takes for a habit to form!
Here’s a few ideas about some things you might want to add into your life, and ways to make them become new habits. And remember, research indicates that it takes about three weeks to form a habit, so if you’re dubious about working on a new, positive, habit, you could potentially have most of the work done inside a month.
Organise your habits – at least know where your keys are!
If you put them down when you come in the house, why not have a hook inside a hall cupboard where you can hang them, or put them in a dish on a hall table (just make sure it’s not accessible from the front door, even by a stick with a hook on the end … that’s a trick burglars use – they reach through the letter box, hook your keys, if they’re visible and reachable, and drive away with your car … take note!)
So settle on a place to keep your keys, and put them there every time you put them down.
Know where you car is!
Get used to making a mental note of where you’ve just parked. When you get out of the car, take a good look around and try to imagine seeing it from different angles, so that if you’re completely lost when it comes to finding your space, you can recognise it from different vantage points. Specially notice any ‘landmarks’, such as signs or hoardings, prominent buildings, etc.
As with many memory ‘tricks’, the very act of making the effort and using a memory device actually makes your natural memory kick in.
Make a commitment to your new good habits
If you’ve decided to form a new habit, whatever it may be, be methodical about it. Start by defining exactly what it is you want to achieve. Then write it down, listing all the benefits that will flow from it. Then, finally, make a commitment – write down that you WILL do this, and it will be part of your life in a few weeks.
There’s something very strange and almost magical about writing down your intentions or goals – it seems to trigger a switch in your mind and, before you know it, you’re energised and taking action.
Harness your imagination
Your imagination is incredibly powerful. You know that, from studying memory improvement. When you’ve decided on a course of action, and committed to it, start visualising the outcome. Don’t waste time visualising all the negative possible outcomes (which is what we do most of the time, a sort of default course of action), just get on with ‘seeing’ only the positive outcome, and see it in the most vivid and appealing detail. This isn’t ‘hope’, this is expectation. Don’t be afraid to go for it!
Be consistent if you want to organise your habits
Keep on in your quest to achieve what you’ve set out to achieve. Even if it’s v-e-r-y slowly, keep moving forward, relentlessly. Let’s say you want to create a habit of daily exercise. You’ll be better off doing a minute or so of exercise every day, and keeping strictly to it, than starting off with 15 minutes of hard exercise and falling by the wayside after a few days. Be reasonable with yourself. If exercise seems like a big thing to you, don’t expect yourself to suddenly become a fitness freak overnight! Just add a little teaspooon of exercise into your day, and keep doing it … every day.
HabitForge is a free online service you can use to help you forge a new habit. You decide what new habit you want to work on, and you get reminded every day by email to help keep you on track. You can sign up for a group of like-minded people all intent on the same goal, or just work on your own thing, whichever suits you best. Even if you choose to ‘go solo’, you’re not really alone anymore – your daily email will remind you what you’re working on and urge you to take action.
Now Rated #5 on the list of “Awesome Cloud Services You’ve Never Heard Of” – PCWorld and CIO.com
Be kind to yourself
If you see habit forming as a tough ritual (and, let’s face it, it does get a bad press), then make sure you don’t make it worse by being tough on yourself. That’s the quickest way to quit. Instead, incorporate something positive and rewarding into the equation.
Let’s say it’s the exercise thing again … instead of just doing a few minutes exercise and then feeling a bit let down after it, why not give yourself a little treat? Preferably not something directly opposed to the habit you’re forming (like a big piece of chocolate cake topped off with a dollop of double cream!), but how about a single piece of a chocolate bar, or a cup of your favourite coffee, the really good stuff? Whatever makes you feel good, try to associate it with what you just did (the exercise), and pretty soon you’ll be looking forward to your next exercise session!
Rise and shine to a new good habit!
Program your mind to wake at a certain time. I remember reading this when I was a kid – it was in a novel about Colditz, and it was written by Pat Reid, the escape officer. He was in charge of getting everyone up in time for the escape attempt, or to dig, can’t recall exactly what it was for. But the thing is, they were prisoners, and no-one had a watch, let alone an alarm clock (come to think of it, that might’ve been a bit of a giveaway!).
He used to tap his head against his pillow when he was going asleep (three taps for three o’clock), and tell himself that he’d wake up at that time. I tried it and after just a few attempts it worked. Now I just have to think “I’ll get up at [whatever time]” and it happens – to the minute. I’m used to it … it’s a habit. And I wake up feeling fine, with no alarms ringing, and not half-awake but fully awake, having risen up from the depths of sleep in a very gradual, natural way.
Seems it’s a perfectly natural ability, but one that we’ve ignored due to the fact that we have the technology (alarm clocks) to do it for us.
60 days – is that too long to do something right?
Maxwell Maltz, in his 1960 book Psycho Cybernetics, theorised that a new habit takes about 21 days to form, although recent (and more focused) research tends to indicate it may actually take about 9 or 10 weeks. Who cares? Either way, it’s just a matter of time, and not much time at that. Use that knowledge to make some real changes in your life.
Pick one thing that you want to work on and stick with it, no matter what, for at least a couple of months. And no, I don’t mean exercise like an Olympic athlete for two months if you want to get fitter, I mean do some exercise every single day for two months (and by the way, according to the recent research it doesn’t really make any difference if you ‘fall off the wagon’ occasionally, you’ll still form the habit successfully). It doesn’t matter if it’s only five minutes, and if those five minutes would be horrifically embarrassing, if anyone were to see it.
Remember, you’re not doing this for anyone else, you’re doing this for you. So even if you struggle to do a few press ups, or a few pull ups, so what?? Do it anyway, and struggle if you have to. And just complete your five minutes, or whatever easily reachable limit you’ve set for yourself. And do it every day! This is the secret to greatness. If you follow this simple routine, you will form new habits, and if you choose well they will catapult you from mediocrity to success.
What could you achieve in a year?
If you follow this routine for a whole year, think how much you could achieve! You could easily form several new habits and have the evidence to show for it. Improved health, better shape physically, smoking consigned to history, earning more, creating something special, maybe publishing a blog, or whatever you want to do. Each thing, taken separately, can be achieved if you take it seriously and stick with it for as long as it takes for the habit to form. Can you do that? If the answer is yes, then the next question is, are you prepared to do it?
If you’re going to go for it, keep it simple. Set yourself attainable goals, and work on one habit at a time. Once it’s become a proper habit, keep it up and, when you’re ready, start to work on a new habit. If you take it slow and easy, like this, real progress is not only possible, it’s almost inevitable.
I remember reading a post online about something Jerry Seinfeld once said to an up and coming comedian. It impressed him so much that he’d used it in all kinds of different areas of his life ever since, with great results.
The guy in question jumped at the chance of speaking to Jerry Seinfeld when he saw him at an open mic night (this was before he made it big on TV, I think). He asked him how to be a more successful comedian, and Jerry told him to write better jokes. No surprise there, huh? He went on say the only way to do that was to write every single day, even if it didn’t amount to much, and even if you didn’t really feel like it. The important thing was to write, he said, and keep writing.
He went on to tell him to get a big calendar and to take a big red marker pen and mark each day off with the marker if he’d written something that day, and only if he’d written something. Pretty soon, he said, you’ll have a chain of these marks, and it will be growing every day. You’ll get to love the feeling of seeing that chain growing so much you’ll always find time to do a bit of writing, he said, no matter how late it might be or how tired you are.
Then, after a pause, he added, “Don’t break the chain”, and paused again. “Don’t break the chain”, he said again, this time slowly and intently, to stress how important it is to keep the momentum going.
Eating habits … they’re your responsibility!
It’s no good blaming diets for not working. That’s like blaming a knife for being sharp. If you use a knife carelessly, you can end up cutting yourself, but you wouldn’t blame the knife, right? Make it a priority to form good eating habits and your health will benefit. If you see yourself as overweight, good eating habits are the way to combat that, rather than fad diets and yo-yo dieting. And if the reason you see yourself as overweight is that you have a bad self-image, you should be spending a little time fixing it – it can be changed.
Find out what works for you, by experimentation, and use that knowledge to come up with a sensible eating plan based on good eating habits. It’ll be the last diet you ever need, because it will work, and, because it’s tailored to your needs, it won’t be difficult to stick with it permanently.
Breaking a habit
Breaking a habit takes a conscious effort, but only for a while. You have to catch yourself doing the thing you’re trying to stop (e.g. smoking), and consciously do things differently. Let’s say you’re working on breaking the smoking habit, then you have to make yourself aware of exactly what you’re doing before you can break the habit.
For example, you could use a marker pen and put a big X on the cigarette pack so that every time you take one out to light up, you see the X and think, “This is wrong … I’m trying to stop this … do I really want this cigarette?”
Often, of course, the answer will be a resounding “Yes!” (that’s the smoker in you talking!), but if you’re serious about breaking a habit you’ll take some action (that’s where the magic is, in actually taking action). So form a habit of asking do you really want or need this cigarette, and even if the answer is in the affirmative, put the cigarette back in the box anyway, and tell yourself, “I can wait five minutes … I can do that much … then I’ll have the cigarette”.
You’ll find that you will be gradually building up the ability to make a choice, which is something that, as a smoker, you’ve lost. Bit by bit you’ll be regaining some control, and you’ll be better positioned to make sensible choices on all kinds of things.
Even before you get started on breaking a habit, you have to recognise that you have one! Sometimes, the very fact that we’ve been doing something for years is enough to blind us to the fact that it’s actually a bad habit. Try to become more aware of everything you do, and keep alert for any bad habits that you might not have acknowledged so far.
A good way to become aware of your bad habits is to carry a notebook. As you notice that you’re doing a particular thing, if it seems to you that it’s not advisable to keep doing it, write it down in your notebook. Every once in a while, refer to your notebook and see what you’ve been noting down. You’re then in a position to do something about it.
I know this sounds obvious and maybe even trivial, but it’s just like having a companion (a very fair and honest companion) who doesn’t mind giving you some honest, down-to-earth feedback. The fact that this companion just happens to be yourself is neither here nor there. In fact, it’s a bonus – you don’t have to share your ‘bad habits’ with someone else, and you can be sure (if you’re noting things down carefully and honestly) that you’re getting feedback of the most honest and insightful kind.
If you don’t make the effort to create good study habits, you’re only making work for yourself. You’re going to study anyway, so approach the situation intelligently. Have set times to study, and study for short periods, so that you don’t get bored or fed up with what you’re doing. Keep your interest up by sticking to your study habits, instead of just doing things haphazardly.
For example, if one of the habits you’ve created is to work on a particular subject for just half an hour at a time, then allow yourself the ‘pleasure’ of a bit of clock-watching. Make a point of setting a timer onscreen (such as a handy little program like TimeLeft), and get to work. You’ll work far more efficiently and steadily, just knowing that within half an hour you can call it a day. Study habits like this are simple and easy to set up, and they can create a positive atmosphere, making study a pleasure.
Let’s say another of your study habits is to study undisturbed for that set period of time. Okay, then take the phone off the hook, put on a pair of headphones, and play some relaxing music as you study. This not only helps to keep distractions at bay, it actually helps to focus your attention on what you’re studying.
You might remember, from school, about inertia. It’s the tendency something has to stay the same, whether that is still or moving. In other words, if a car is stationery and you have to help get it moving, it’s really hard work pushing it because it wants to stay in the same state (in this case, stock still). Once it gets going though, it’s hard to stop it. It still wants to stay in the same state, only it’s moving now!
It works even more spectacularly in space; if a rocket ship fires a small booster, the rocket will start to move in a certain direction and at a certain speed. Once it’s started, the booster can be switched off – the rocket will keep on moving even without the booster firing, and it won’t stop unless some other force is applied, such as a reverse thrust (since there’s no air in space, there’s no air pressure to act against the spacecraft, so it will tend to just keep moving).
Inertia applies to us as well as to cars and rockets and other physical objects. When we’re doing nothing, we tend to want to carry on doing precisely the same thing – nothing. Once we get moving though, it’s a different story – actually, it’s the same story, only the state has changed. Now we’re moving, we feel we can hardly stop. So keep that in mind when you’re working on a new habit. It might feel like hard work at first (that’s inertia), but once we’ve got moving, it’s a whole lot easier (that’s inertia as well!).
Remember what worked
When you were learning to drive, you had to perform certain actions in a very regimented way. Mirror-signal-manoeuvre, that kind of thing … we all remember it! Now you do these things quite automatically. They’ve become habit! When you’re working on making something a habit, remind yourself of some of the things you’ve achieved, and how it took a bit of persistence and commitment. It’s easy to forget these past achievements, but recalling them can give you a real boost when you need it most.
Find a really motivational image and use it as your desktop wallpaper. Find more of the same kind of thing and make a slideshow of these images. Use an image viewer, such as FastStone, to play the slideshow, and you can even use the program to link a motivational music track with it. Settle back once a day and play the slideshow and listen to the music. While this is going on, lose yourself in mental visions of how it’s going to be once you achieve what you’re aiming for. And generate the feelings you associate with being successful, in whatever you’re going after.
Simple motivational techniques like this can really boost your performance and help you make tremendous progress. And all it takes for them to work is for you to make them habits and incorporate them into your routines.
Find yourself a role model
One of the best ways to achieve something is to model yourself on someone who’s already achieved the same thing. It’s common sense really – if they can do it, so can you. And if you want to do it successfully (which obviously you do), then model your actions precisely on theirs.
This is the type of thing taught by self-development gurus like Tony Robbins. If you look into this field, you’ll come across it all the time. Why? Because it works! Even Tony Robbins had a mentor, and his mentor had one too. That’s how these things are done. Nobody is truly self-taught – we’re all ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’.
There’s a voice in your head that is clamouring to be heard all the time, and it’s saying bad things. It’s telling you things like
“It won’t work!”
“You’re not good enough!”
“What makes you think you can do something like that?”
“You’ll never be able to afford it!”
“Face it, you’re a born loser!”
“You’ve failed before, what makes you think this’ll be any different?”
“You’ll probably make a fool of yourself”
“You’ll always be fat!”
and other such nasty comments.
This negative self-talk isn’t unusual. In fact, for most of us, it’s the default setting of our brains – we just can’t seem to stop trying to convince ourselves that we’re hopeless and we’re heading for a fall.
Take charge! Catch yourself committing this crime against yourself, and come down hard on the perpetrator. Stop the negative self-talk as soon as you hear it happening. The best way to do that? Simple! Just reverse it. If the voice is saying “You can’t do that, you’ll probably fail”, just start saying to yourself, consciously, and in a very determined voice, “Oh yes, I can … and I’ll do it really well … I’ll achieve exactly what I want”. If you hear it muttering “You failed before, remember? This’ll just be more of the same …” say, very firmly, “This time it’ll be different … this time I’ll make it happen, just the way I want … I WILL succeed … I WILL!”
This is one of the most important good habits that you can possibly create. Silence that negative voice once and for all. Replace it with a positive, caring, supportive, encouraging voice.
There are other pages devoted to helping you get organised, and they’re not scattered haphazardly all over the site. The links to them are all conveniently organised in the sidebar!
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