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Change your habits and you change your life

How much of your life is habit? Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit, quotes a Duke University researcher who in 2006 found that more than 40% of the actions of people performed each day were not actually decisions, but habits.

More recently, Joe Dispenza, in his book, You are the placebo, maintains that by age thirty-five, 95% of who you are is a set of memorized behaviors, skills, emotional reactions, beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes that function like a subconscious automatic computer program.

Change isn’t easy. One study found that only one in nine people who underwent heart surgery were able to change their lifestyle, and even these people were motivated by the threat of possible death. According to John Ratey, author of the book Spark, statistics show that about half of those who start up a new exercise routine dropout within six months to a year.

To change your behavior, you have to start by changing your thoughts, according to Joe Dispenza. It’s your thoughts that determine your choices, which in turn determine your behaviors, and ultimately how you experience life.

It takes effort to change since you have only 5% of the conscious “you” to chip away at. The 95% that is already set in its ways. But you are the master of your brain, and when you repeat a thought or an experience often enough, your brain cells are making stronger connections in the direction you want to go.

You are consciously forming the habits that you really want, and creating a new life in the process. It’s difficult to break firmly entrenched habits or behaviors. To make it easier, you may want to consider the following suggestions:

Make changes gradually.

According to MJ Ryan, author of This year I will …, when we try to make changes that are too aggressive our system tries to maintain the status quo by swinging in the opposite direction. This is the reason that strict diets don’t work. It is the same with the application of time management ideas. Too many changes introduced at once decreases the chance that you will stick to the changes long enough for them to become a habit. So make one change at a time.

Do it together.

Weight Watchers have found that people who use a support group are three times more likely to lose weight than folks on their own. When attempting to break a habit, it helps to have someone to be accountable to. This “buddy system” can be applied to both job and lifestyle changes.

 Replace a bad habit with a good one.

It’s a lot easier to build a new habit than to break an old one. So don’t focus on breaking the old one. Instead, form a new habit to replace it. You will form the behaviors that you reinforce, and the old ones will fade away from disuse.

Piggyback a new habit on a good habit that is already established.

To more easily form a habit, anchor it to an old one that is firmly entrenched. For example, if you are already in the habit of walking first thing every morning, and you want to spend 20 minutes every day learning a new language, you might take your books with you in a backpack when you walk and spend twenty minutes studying in a coffee shop on the way home.

Without doubt it takes determination and effort. But remember, while you are forming the habits, you are also creating a new life in the process.

 

 

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How to break bad habits and form better ones

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Whether we were made from clay by the hand of God or whether we evolved from single-celled organisms who somehow made themselves from clay long after a Big Bang, it does not change the reality of how our body, brain and mind currently interact.

One thing seems certain; you are not your brain. If you were, you would not be able to override it, modify it or control it; because you would be it. Some neuroscientists believe this is the case.

That’s great news; because it means we (our mind) can use our brain (the body’s computer) to change our thinking, modify our brain structure, and in many circumstances, even heal our bodies.

For example, it means we can change bad habits that our brain has automatically developed, based on input it has received from the environment, past behaviours, and a preprogrammed initiative to survive.

The mind’s ability to change the brain is referred to as self-directed neuroplasticity, and is now considered to be a scientific fact – with plenty of proof to back it up.

If you can believe that the mind is separate from the brain, you can break bad habits using the following five-step plan.

  1. Identify the brain messages that got you into the habit in the first place and evaluate them with your mind. (For example, perhaps at one time it seemed essential to check email about every five minutes.)
  2. Direct your attention to the new action you prefer – the one that meets your personal values and that would be healthier and more productive for you. (For example, to check email first thing in the morning and after every 90-minute work session.)
  3. Use your “won’t power” the next time you have the urge to act out the habitual behaviour you have determined is more reasonable and more proactive. (Say no to yourself when you have that mental itch to check your email before it’s time to do so.)
  4. Use your “willpower” to act out the replacing behaviour – even though the urge is still there to do otherwise. This requires mindfulness and focus on your part.
  5. Focus on the new behaviour. The more you focus and follow through with the new behaviour, the sooner this new behaviour becomes the new habit, and the old habit fades from disuse.

The reason this works is that by acting out a new behaviour again and again, you are rewiring your current neurons to form a new circuit.

It’s akin to creating a new and shorter path through a field than the one usually taken. It will take initiative, self-discipline and effort on your part to form this new path through the long grass. But the more times you do so, the more entrenched the path becomes and the easier it is to follow. Meanwhile the original path will fade away from disuse. This is similar to the fate of neural pathways that are no longer used.

You are your mind. You have the power to decide what is important and what is not; what should be done and what should be delayed or abandoned; which behaviours should be changed and which ones should be retained. If you believe all that, you are in control of your life.

If you still need help, you will have to refer to the creator of the clay.