We humans are creatures of habit, therefore developing good habits should be simple – right! Well, not always.
The problem is that we get very comfortable doing things the same way each and every day. We often absentmindly stick to a daily routine without considering the consequence or effectiveness of it. Why change?
Unfortunately, not all of our habits are healthy, or good. If we are in the habit of coming home after work each day and reaching for an alcoholic drink to relax instead of getting on the treadmill to let off steam, it will adversely affect our health.
Or, if, while watching television in the evening we tend to snack on chips and drink soda pop instead of munching on veggies and sipping on fruit juice, it will ultimately lead to the consequence of poor health.
If we are in the habit of smoking to relieve stress/anxiety, or over-eating, or taking our frustrations out on others, we must recognize these as habits worth changing, or eliminating. So where do we begin?
7 Seven Simple Steps to Develop Good Habits
1. Identify the habit. As mentioned, most of the time we are no longer conscious of our habits, good or bad, so the first thing we need do is become aware. If that cough has been getting worse, or if we become winded after walking up a few stairs, it’s likely that a bad habit (smoking, sedentary lifestyle), or a lack of a good habit (exercise) is to blame. Maybe our finances are in disarray, which means that we’ve been in the bad habit of spending more than we earn, or not practicing the good habit of maintaining a budget and sticking to it. It’s time to examine our habits!
2. Make the decision, and then the commitment, to change. Of course, this is easier said than done. How many times have we said to ourselves, “Yes, I should exercise more and eat better. Not to worry, I’ll get around to it sooner or later?” Unfortunately, procrastinating just makes it harder to change a bad habit. The longer you put off taking action, especially where health is concerned, the unhealthier you, or the situation, will get. A conscious commitment is necessary because that’s what it takes to get the wheels of motion in action.
3. Discover your triggers and obstacles. If you don’t know what your triggers are, or if you are unprepared for the inevitable obstacles, you will set yourself up for failure. In order to develop good habits, we must be aware of what our habits are. All of us, in moments of weakness and vulnerability, need support or a release for our frustrations. Reaching for alcohol, drugs, over-eating, or over-medicating is not the answer. If an unpleasant incident takes place at work, or a messy traffic altercation occurs on the way home, you have to find a healthy alternative to your usual way of dealing with it. We all have bad days, but we need not resort to unhealthy habits to alleviate the stress. Likewise, we cannot let boredom, anger, or anxiety be triggers for bad habits either. Look for healthy ways of dealing with triggers and obstacles.
4. Devise a plan. Benjamin Franklin had a great plan for overcoming his bad habits and replacing them with good ones. He developed a process whereby he listed 13 virtues he felt were important in his life and then proceeded to work on them. He focused on one virtue per week for a 13 week period. By the end of each week he felt he had mastered the bad habit so he proceeded to the next one the following week.
During this process he kept a journal of his success with the virtues. Since some of the virtues helped facilitate the acquisition of others, he put them in a particular order beginning with temperance because “it tends to procure that coolness and clearness of head, which is so necessary where constant vigilance was to be kept up.”
This will work well for anyone who is trying to establish a new good habit – vigilance is indeed needed to make sure you stick with it! After temperance he worked on silence because knowledge could be best obtained “by the use of the ears than of the tongue.”
Franklin had rhyme, reason and purpose for every virtue. He figured that to develop good habits, keeping order would free him up for the things he really wanted to accomplish in life. His resolve, once it became habitual, would help him remain focused in order to implement all the other virtues. Here for the fun of it is Benjamin Franklin’s list of virtues. You can devise a similar list for yourself to help you incorporate good habits into your lifestyle.
The List of Virtues which Benjamin Franklin incorporated into his life:
- Temperance – Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
- Silence – Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
- Order – Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
- Resolution – Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
- Frugality – Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
- Industry – Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
- Sincerity – Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
- Justice – Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
- Moderation – Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
- Cleanliness – Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
- Tranquility – Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
- Chastity – Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
- Humility – Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
5. Employ visualization and affirmations. Visualization and affirmations are great for integrating the new habit into your routine. While visualization is a powerful motivational tool and energizer, affirmations program the subconscious with the right mindset for establishing a new habit. Together they allow you to feel and imagine yourself carrying out the correct behaviors making it easier to adopt the new habit. Certainly developing good habits is easier when employing visualization and affirmations.
6. Enlist support from family and friends. Let people know what you’re trying to accomplish. This way they will understand if you want to pass up the desert or go for a walk instead of stopping at the pub on the way home. When your friends know you are serious about changing a bad habit into a good one, not only will they help you steer away from temptations, they will cheer you on and give you moral support. We all need support in achieving our goals!
7. Find healthy ways to reward yourself. One of the reasons we develop many bad habits in the first place is because they make us feel good, even if it’s just temporarily. The experience of feeling good is meant to soothe or placate us when we’re stressed, dejected, or just plain out of sorts. For example, you might over-eat and feel really good while doing it, but then you feel twice as bad afterwards. The same goes for smoking or drinking too much. While you’re in the act you feel relaxed and trouble free, however, afterwards you feel remorse and vow to quit – soon. So, in order to minimize falling off the wagon and slipping back into old, detrimental habits, reward yourself when you’ve done well. Treat yourself to a new book, a movie, a concert, or new exercise equipment. If you’re short on cash, visit a friend you haven’t seen for a while, go to the downtown art gallery, or enjoy a skinny latte.
The wonderful benefit of developing good habits is that after doing them repeatedly, they soon become automatic. Anything you do for a long while and consistently enough eventually becomes a habit, and once it does, you no longer have to put much effort into it. Such is the beauty of developing good habits!