Most of us spend entirely too much time trying to change old habits. We identify those habits we don’t like, and make efforts to get rid of them, or stop ourselves from engaging in them. This is a huge waste of time, attention and energy. We can never get rid of old habits. The good news is we don’t have to. We can ignore them. We can practice new habits that work better for us.
The quality of our experience in life is created by the thousands of mental, emotional, verbal and behavioral habits we have developed since birth (maybe before). Most of these habits serve us well, especially those which allowed us to survive and communicate within the environment into which we were born. Many previously learned habits become obsolete, useless, or downright self-defeating. So we decide to get rid of them. Bad decision.
You did not have to get rid of your habit of crawling in order to walk. You did not have to give up the habit of walking before developing the habit of roller skating. You did not have to give up crawling, walking or roller skating before you created the habit of riding a bicycle. And you did not eliminate any of these habits prior to practicing the habit of driving a car. So why do you think you have to give up old thinking, verbal or behavioral habits, before you can develop new ones which work better for you in any given situation? The answer is obvious. You don’t.
Psychologists have clearly demonstrated that whatever we repeatedly focus our attention upon, becomes stronger, more powerful, or grows greater. Think about this principle for a moment. If we repeatedly think about, talk about, and focus our attention on a “bad” habit, even with the intention of changing it, we make it stronger. What is often worse, when the habit becomes bigger, we usually criticize ourselves for not being strong enough, self-disciplined enough, or good enough to stop that bad habit. If we do this repeatedly, we develop the habit of self-criticism, thereby compounding the already impossible situation.
If you want to change your life, ignore your old habits, and go about creating and installing new habits which work better for you. It takes approximately 21 days to develop a new habit to the point where you don’t have to give it much thought or attention anymore. And you can practice only one new habit at any given moment.
Let’s suppose you wanted to transform your lifestyle. If you practiced one new habit for 21 days, you would have 13 new habits in place every year. In three years, you could have 39 new habits installed in your lifestyle. If these 39 were basic, core habits, the transformation of your life would be spectacular!
The place to start is in your thinking. The usual sequence of habit development is: imagine the new habit, put the new habit into words, and then act as if the habit were already in place. For example: imagine yourself driving a car. Talk about developing that skill (learn about driving). Then, when you get behind the wheel, behave as if you already had the skill (practice driving). This sequence may take a while…like 21 days of consistent regular practice. By the end of the time, however, you could probably drive while thinking about something else. The habit will be in place. These same principles apply to all new habits you wish to have.
You want to dramatically change your life? Create in your thought, word and action, new habits. Pay attention to them. Monitor your thinking about them. Verbalize them. Write them down. Then, for three weeks, behave in ways which reflect the habit you want to have in place. Focus on only one habit at a time until it becomes automatic (unconscious). Then begin the process over again with yet another new habit.
Some habits I would suggest you develop include: thinking neutral to positive thoughts; increase self-awareness; thinking about your desired outcome before acting; create a sense of contentment and “Okness”; commitment to becoming the person you were designed to be; habitually serve others; control your thinking, your words and your behavior so they reflect only the highest choices within you; detach from all things; and love absolutely unconditionally. Create these habits in your life and you’ll live, at the very least, a joyful existence.
Reprinted with Permission.
Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach. He serves on the faculty of the International University of Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams) the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!”