I’d rather not be eating cheese balls all the time. But, every night without fail, I find myself dusting that orange fluff of off the sofa and the remote control. I decide not to bite my pen when I’m working but I always have ink stains on my lips. Time and again, I find myself on autopilot, giving in to those habits that I wish to rid myself of but am unable to change.
That’s the power of a habit. And you don’t have just one. You don’t even have a dozen. You have dozens, maybe even hundreds. And here’s the catch: You don’t like all of your habits. In fact, a large number of them are displeasing and don’t work to your benefit.
I was recently reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. In the book, he takes an unflinching look at the science of habit, and offers concrete strategies for transforming harmful habits into beneficial ones. The book offers incontrovertible evidence that understanding how our habits work is essential to changing them.
I spoke to a few people – from a girl who lost 10 kilos by cutting back on sugar and junk food to someone who quit smoking after 20 years of smoking one packet of cigarette every single day – to find out how they changed their behavioral pattern to achieve the results they wanted. What I got were some very uplifting and inspiring answers.
It’s all in the mind
I used to smoke. It’s something I took up quite early in life as many of my friends back during my college days in India used to smoke and I tried a cigarette here and a cigarette there. Before long, I was smoking at least 15 cigarettes a day. I would smoke when I was bored or tired, and when I was indulging in some good coffee. When an assignment was too difficult, that called for a cigarette break. I would smoke when someone else wanted to and I would reach for a cigarette as soon as I woke up. That’s how bad it became.
In college, cigarettes ate away my monthly allowance and I was often forced to borrow from friends and seniors to tide me till the end of the month when my parents would send me more money. I always thought I could quit anytime I wanted to but realized that I had come too far to be able to stop when I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without taking a few puffs in the morning.
That was the lightning bolt moment for me. I realized that I had become very dependent on these nicotine sticks and that way, it wouldn’t be long before I suffered some horrible fate. I decided to give up. It was as simple as that. Initially, I had a lot of trouble especially digestive problems, withdrawal symptoms and all but I wanted to stop smoking, for myself, and my family who would be the ones to suffer if I got lung cancer. Habits aren’t all that hard to break provided you know what the triggers are and are clear about where your priorities lie. For me, it was a simple as being determined to not be controlled by my habits but control them instead. Habits are hard to break only because you lack the determination and mindset to correct it.
Write it down
I had been trying to lose weight for so long that I had almost given up. I would lose two to three kilos, feel so good about myself and then put it all back on. This vicious cycle went on for a while and though I knew it wasn’t doing my body a lot of harm, there was nothing I could do about it. At five feet two inches, I weighed a staggering 73 kilos. I lived on junk food, and guzzled down soft drinks instead of water. At the most, I could stay away from it all for two weeks and then it was back to the same old routine.
What helped change all this – I’m now 10 kilos lighter and still working on losing another five kilos – is writing it all down. I kept a food diary and entered everything I ate in it. From one tiny piece of chocolate to two servings of fruit everyday, it all went in that little blue notebook. The simple act of keeping a food diary can encourage you to eat fewer calories and thus lose weight. For one thing, keeping a food diary instantly increases your awareness of what, how much, and why you are eating. This helps you cut down on mindless munching. I went from reaching for a glass of cola every time I felt thirsty to drinking water instead in less than a week. I got over the one-packet-lays-a-day habit pretty quickly too.
Keeping a journal can help you get rid of other bad habits too. Say you want to wake up by 7 am every day but find yourself unable to get out of bed till 9 am. Track your wake-up times for a week and you’ll find yourself getting out of bed earlier and earlier till you reach your set mark. If writing everything down in paper isn’t your thing and you don’t want to carry a notebook everywhere you go, simply download some apps like Evernote and Any.do on your phone and keep a record on the go.
Writing down your habits and actions will help you make any change you want because when you are holding yourself accountable for your deeds, it’s only obvious to want to be in your best behavior.
Practice makes perfect
Tomorrow, you promise yourself, it will be different. You will have that one last can of coke and then never touch it again, from tomorrow. From tomorrow you will start waking up early. From tomorrow you will read the Nepali newspapers to work on your language. But tomorrow, the habit takes hold again. And tomorrow never comes.
What you repeatedly do (i.e. what you spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality that you portray. The habits of highly successful people allow them to consistently perform behaviors that lead to success. Everything from eating well to responsible spending requires habits that make such behaviors part of our daily life. Basically, in life, we are the sum of our habits. What we accomplish depends largely on our routine and behavior patterns. Everybody wants to succeed and do better in life and so do I. I realized that while there wasn’t anything specific I wanted to change, there were these little things I could do to make life so much better.
For instance, if I woke up an hour earlier, I could accomplish so much before I started my day. If I had more green tea every day, I would feel good about myself. If I kept track of my spending habits, I could save more. And if I made more time for my family and friends by simply curbing my time on the internet, I would be much happier. And it isn’t really hard to do all these things. It’s just that one becomes so attuned to doing things in a certain way – like checking emails first thing in the morning – that you don’t see another way of doing it.
Changing these little habits isn’t hard. All you have to do is keep at it long enough to ingrain it into your lifestyle. I drink a bottle of water as soon as I wake up and I’ve now been doing it long enough to call it a habit. This has benefitted me in ways more than one. For starters, my digestion is much better and my skin has cleared up considerably. Sometimes, focusing on the rewards, I find, is the easiest way change your bad habits into good ones.
The writer likes to read, eat, and give opinions not advice. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org