“First we make our habits, then our habits make us.” – Charles C. Noble
Why is changing bad habits into good habits so hard?
Your zombie response is the reason behind how you cross your arms, brush your teeth, or drive. It’s also the reason behind other, more insidious habits like reaching for that candy bar or bag of potato chips or yelling at your spouse or co-worker when you’re stressed. It’s why you go home and flop on the couch, drinking your favorite hard or soft drink and munching on snacks instead of stopping at the gym to exercise.
It’s behind nearly everything you do. That’s because your zombie response is what forms your habits and its why changing bad habits into good habits is so hard.
BJ Fogg is a Stanford professor who studies human behavior. He came up with three steps he calls the “Habit Loop,” which I refer to in my book, “Secrets of the Black Belt Mindset.” These three steps are called cue, routine, reward. The writer and speaker, James Clear, renamed these three steps the 3 R’s: Reminder, Routine, and Reward. While changing your habits can be challenging, having a plan can make the process a lot easier.
Here are 7 steps that for changing bad habits into good habits:
1. Decide What You Want to Change
The first step in changing any habit is deciding on what it is you want to change. What is it that you are doing that you are not happy about? Are you overeating or drinking too much alcohol? What habit do you want to change?
2. Determine Your Reward
When changing bad habits into good habits you need to determine what you’ll receive as a result of changing. For example, when changing your eating habits, you might do this because you want to drop some pounds and feel better about yourself. What’s the reward you’ll get from your efforts?
3. Track Your Present Habit
For a week keep a journal and make note of the triggers that cause you to engage in the habit. Maybe you smoke at certain times of the day or around certain friends. Perhaps you eat when you’re stressed or bored. Maybe you find yourself snacking a little extra in the late afternoon or right before a big meeting. Identify under which circumstances your habit is most likely to manifest itself.
4. Determine Your Why
A major presupposition in NLP is that all behaviors are constructive in some way, that every behavior has some use somewhere. In fact, in the right context every behavior has a use. You’re gaining a benefit or you wouldn’t be exhibiting the behavior at all.
Your behavior is satisfying some subconscious need. There is a very good chance that at one time your bad habit had some very positive aspects. You reached for a certain type of food because it comforted you. Figuring out the positive aspects of your habit will help you understand it. Although this is not a necessary step, understanding how your habit served you in the past can make it easier for you to change.
5. Find a Substitute Behavior
Another major presupposition of NLP is that people make the best choice available to them. Your bad habits usually don’t just go away. You have to replace them with more empowering ones. NLP practitioners believe that people will always make the best decision based on what’s “best” for the subconscious mind at that time. This means when changing bad habits into good habits you need to find a more acceptable alternative habit that satisfies the same need that was being met by the old habit.
You need to decide what you could do instead that isn’t harmful. Figure out what you could do instead that would be healthy for you. You if you eat to help you to deal with stress, what are some healthy alternatives? Practicing Yoga? Deep breathing exercises? Meditating? Squeezing a squeeze ball? Watching a funny movie? Calling a friend?
6. Start Substituting Your New Empowering Habit for Your Old One
This is where your detective work and journaling comes in. You know what is triggering your behaviors, now when the trigger happens begin substituting your new behavior for the old one. Now this will take a fair amount of attention at first, but by beginning to intentionally substitute your new behavior each time you’ll eventually cause it to occur instead of your old one. This may be challenging at first, but with practice, you can do it.
7. Measure Your Progress
Progress can be difficult to determine without measurement; if you don’t know where you are, how will you know if you’re moving forward or backward? Use your journal to keep track of how many times you engage in the old habit and how many times you engage in the new one. By measuring your progress, you accomplish two things:
• You get feedback so you know how successful you are. Also if you need to change something else your feedback will let you know.
• You receive the additional motivation of seeing your progress.
Be Patient with Your Progress
There is an old saying attributed to Confucius that goes like this, “It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.” When it comes to changing your bad habits into good habits just take it one step at a time. And forget about perfection. Complete perfection is perfectly unreasonable, but a little perfection can work wonders.
About the author:
Wil Dieck is a writer, speaker, researcher, college professor and master martial arts instructor. He studies and teaches people from all walks of life how to use simple psychological techniques to develop high performance habits.
Wil’s most recent works includes the highly ranked Amazon Kindle book, Secrets of the Black Belt Mindset, Turing Simple Habits into Extraordinary Success and Modern Mindfulness, A Beginners Guide on How to Find Peace and Happiness in a Busy World.
In addition to his work as a researcher, writer, and speaker, Wil is a professor of psychology and business at San Diego University of Integrated Studies.
Wil runs a peak performance coaching practice in San Diego, California. Additionally, he regularly works with people who are suffering from stress and anxiety using meditation, hypnotherapy and NLP.