We will continue studying the concept of habit formation in this Wisdom Note. In our previous note, we learned that the best way to establish lasting positive habits in our lives is by starting exceedingly small, even if it seems ridiculous.
At times, I personally struggle with this as I want to jump headlong into everything that I am doing, but experience and science prove that if we want to create habits we need to “Make it so easy you can’t say no and realize actually doing the habit is much more important than how much you do.”
As a reminder, we need to understand that it is very important to realize that if we desire to rid ourselves of bad habits in any area of our lives, we must, at the same time form new, positive habits, or we will just fall back into the same routine and never be free of the shackles that hold us back. A key law of life is that when we say “no” to one choice, we are automatically saying “yes” to another. As we begin to say “no” to our bad habits let us say “yes” to positive habits that replace them.
When it comes to habit formation, we would do well to read and understand the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia 6:6-8, “Don’t be misled — you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.”
Last week and this week we are exploring the research from habit creation specialist Leo Barbauta called “The Four Habits that Form Habits” trails. Let’s pick up where we left off.
Habit Guideline #2: Be Mindful of Negative Thoughts
Most people will skip this habit because they don’t think it’s necessary. Then they’ll wonder why the habit failed.
Habit formation starts in the mind. You must learn to watch your thoughts. We all have a lot of self-talk that we may not be aware of. If you are trying to lose weight your mind will start rationalizing the idea of just one cookie, thinking “One won’t hurt! Why are you torturing yourself? Is this really worth it? Just give in. It’s much easier. You can’t do this. It’s too hard.”
Think about those thoughts for a second. How many do you have that you are not aware of? How powerful are they? Did you realize they were there? How many times did they cause you to eat something that you shouldn’t? And how often do these kinds of thoughts act on you?
The same thoughts happened when you start running or exercise. Your mind will say, “You should stop now. It’s too hard. You’ll feel much better when you stop.” And of course, thoughts like these are very tempting, very powerful. I find for myself, that if I establish shorter milestones when I reach them, I then have the strength and desire to continue on.
When you find these negative thoughts creep into your mind, realize that they are just thoughts. They don’t have to control you. They are just things that happen, like a leaf falling from a tree as you run by. They are interesting phenomena but not determinations of life.
Watch your thoughts. Learn to let them go. Get good at discomfort. Triumph over your childish selfish scared mind.
Habit Guideline #3: Savor the Habit
This is the opposite of Habit Guideline #2 but possibly even more important. We have to rid ourselves of negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts. Your new habit isn’t some sort of sacrifice or some sort of chore you need to get through to get to your better life. Your new habit is your better life. The new habit, whatever it is, should be something you enjoy or choose to learn to enjoy. Otherwise, you won’t do it long term.
If you want to eat healthier, learn to enjoy the taste of delicious, fresh, healthy food. An apple can be just as delicious as any junk food snack if you pay attention and savor it.
On the flip side, I don’t know anyone that enjoyed their first drag on a cigarette. It became a negative addictive habit over time. Eating healthy requires that you change your taste buds to savor and enjoy what your body naturally craves. Recent science is proving that sugar can be as addictive and harmful as cocaine. It is only that the resulting obesity is more culturally acceptable than drug addiction that there is not an outcry about it.
If you are exercising, pay close attention to and enjoy the movement of the body, the feeling of exertion, the flow of blood through your brain, and the focus that comes as a result. Once you work up to strenuous exercise, your body produces its own reward centers that allow you to crave that which is good for you.
If you are writing, sit with the words and enjoy the quiet concentration and the exhilaration of creation. Every blog post or novel was written one word at a time. Work up to creating your own novel of life one word at a time, and make it a good story, a legacy story.
Learn to enjoy the habit, and the habit will become its own reward. The goal isn’t some distant achievement, but the process itself. As I remind you each day, enjoy your journey.
Habit Guideline #4: Have a Plan for When You Falter
This is really key. There are so many people I know who have done really well with their habit for 6-7 days, and then when some disruption happened (it’s incredibly common), they never restarted.
Get in the habit of restarting when you falter.
How do you do that? Accountability is the key. Make commitments that have an impact. Here is one example…
Promise a friend or your spouse that you’ll pay $25 if you miss your new habit two days in a row, then double that the next day ($50), double that if you miss four days in a row ($100), and double that every day you miss in a row after that. If you don’t have the monetary means to do that, promise to mow someone’s lawn, wash their car, or clean their toilets if you miss three days in a row. Have others hold you accountable. Give them permission to “get in your face” if you miss two or three days in a row. Deny yourself something that you really desire, if you miss your habit multiple times.
Missing one day in a row is not the end of the habit. Missing two days isn’t great, but you can recover. Miss three days, and the habit is shot. So don’t allow yourself to miss three days, and try your hardest not to even miss two days. This is important. It can literally be the difference between a rich and satisfying life or one lived poorly and without gratification.
Recap: Forming the Four Habits
So how do you form the habits that form all other habits?
- Keep it as simple as possible.
- Get rid of negative thinking.
- Install positive thinking.
- Prepare ahead for excuses.
Now choose one incredibly easy habit to do in the next two weeks…Floss one tooth. Drink one glass of water. Eat one fruit. Exercise, meditate, write, or do yoga for 2 minutes a day. Just two minutes. Then apply all four habits to those two minutes every day. You’ll start to learn how to form a new habit, and that’s a skill that will pay off for a lifetime.