Tag Archives: Habits

How to Change Your Behaviors & Build Better Habits?

Turtle climbing steps
Turtle climbing steps

In my last article, I talked about how habits work and explained that much of our behaviors are automatic habits that keep us operating on autopilot for significant part of our days and lives. So, what is the big deal? Due to the unconscious nature of these habits, some of us are functioning daily with habits that no longer serve us well. In fact, some of our habits might be undermining the lives we want to create for ourselves and our families and ways we want to grow and develop personally and professionally.

Since all of us have at least one habit that we want to break or build, I challenged you to identify one habit that might be getting in the way of your overall effectiveness. This could be a mindset, a relationship or habits related to food, exercise or how you spend your time and money. Since, our habits can work for and against us, it crucial that we understand them and ensure that they are working in our favor and not to our detriment. Afterall, we cannot fix a habit without being aware of it and truly wanting to change that behavior. But then again, changing behaviors is never easy. Our habits formed to serve a function and usually continue to do so.

Unformed Puzzle vs Formed Puzzle in Human  Mind-Image
Unformed Puzzle vs Formed Puzzle in Human Mind

Small Habits, Big Changes

At the start of the year, I read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear which talked about how tiny changes, little choices, small improvements in behaviors can unlock significant success and remarkable results. He argued that “if we could improve by 1% every day for an entire year, we could get 37% better by the end of the year.” Conversely if we got 1 % worse every day for an entire year, we would end up being 37% worse off at the end of the year. Clear explained that if you are willing to build small behaviors and layer 1% improvements on top of them, they will compound and multiply the same way that money multiplies with compound interest over time.

One example of this could include you increasing your water intake daily or replacing one meal with a salad or fruit/vegetable smoothie. Making any one of these choices on daily basis might not immediately result in a drastic dip on the scale or in the pounds automatically melting away. But after a year of this behavior (and if you continued), you are more than likely to experience and see huge gains in your health and overall nutrition than had you made no change at all. The full impact of those actions will compound as getting 1% better every day counts for a lot in the long run.  

From Seed to Plant-Different Stages of  Development -Image
From Seed to Plant- Stages of Development -Image

How to Change Habits?

Whether you or realize it or not, we tend to describe ourselves based on our behaviors and preferences. People who love coffee will say they are coffee drinkers, while other who prefer teas will identify as a tea drinkers. And this applies to how people see and describe us as well. So, when it comes to changing habits, identity plays an important role as well. According to Clear, the most effective way to change your habit is not to focus on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become. Your identify emerges out of your habits since every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become

Clear advises that rather than setting a goal to read 12 books this year, see yourself as reader. Then ask yourself, what do readers do? Answer- readers read (even one page every day.) When you embrace the identity of a reader and read, you are intentionally casting votes for that person you want to become. And the more you do it, you will start to see yourself as that person and build up more evidence to support that identity. Once this behavior becomes your identity, there are no limits on the number of books you will read. Therefore, focusing on identity change can help you become more conscious about your habits and help you to be more intentional about your behaviors so that you can make better choices to grow and improve.

For me, reading Atomic Habits back in January was huge game changer and it helped me restart writing this blog. I had originally started this blog back in 2014 to share my ideas, lessons, experiences and engage with others. For the first year, I consistently published an article weekly, which later dropped off to once a month, then periodically and I stopped altogether in 2016. This was due to a lack of motivation brought on by the stresses of what was happening in my life at the time. Though I had stopped writing my blog, I continued my love of writing by contributing to newsletters at work and occasionally writing on LinkedIn. For the years in between, I developed a habit of spending a huge amount of my down time scrolling through Twitter and consuming long hours of TV with popular streaming services such as Hulu, Netflix, and Apple TV. I was not reading books as much anymore and I was not writing consistently which are hobbies I enjoyed and believed I was good at.

After reading the book, my biggest takeaway was that “Every action you take is a vote for the person you want to be.” When I assessed my habits and tracked how I was spending my time, I realized I was voting for an unproductive TV watcher not the writer I hope be. My behaviors were not consistent with my goal to write and publish a book someday. I knew these behaviors had to change. Consequently, I decided that my writing rut was over, and I would resume writing and publishing articles on my blog again. As I got started, I had doubts about whether I would be able to be consistent and I worried about whether anyone would read. After thinking about it for a while, I resolved that writing was more about me honoring my talent for writing and not burying my talent due to my fears.

One Day, Day One
One Day, Day One

So, I committed to posting an article every Monday and developed a system to support it. I am happy to report  that since February 1, 2021, when I started, I have a casted a vote for the writer I hope to become and now have written and published 16 articles and counting. There is now evidence to support my identity as a writer and my journey continues. I no longer allow the fear that no one will read or doubts about how good the articles are to discourage me. I just vote for myself as a writer every week. Plus, I spend way less time on Twitter and watching TV.

So how about you? Who and what are you voting for? Which new identity do you need to adopt? Clear explains that “In an election, you do not need to have 100% of the votes to win, you just need the majority.” Changing your habits is not about perfection, just progression, so just start. And even if you mess up, avoid the all or nothing mentality and get back on track to keep going.

Four Laws of Behavior Change

So how do we change our behaviors and build better habits? In his book Atomic Habits, Clear recommends four laws for behavior change to build better habits as follows:

  • 1st Law of Behavior is make it obvious: One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top. This is called “habit stacking.” The habit stacking formula is: ‘After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]. With that you then set an implementation intention that says, After work, I will go outside for a 15 minutes’ walk in my community.
  • 2nd Law of Behavior Change is make it attractive:  The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming. Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. When dopamine (feel good hormone) rises, so does our motivation to act. It is the anticipation of a reward – not the fulfillment of it – that gets us to act. The greater the anticipation, the greater the dopamine spike. Temptation bundling is one way to make your habits more attractive. The strategy is to pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do. Example, I will watch Netflix while riding my stationary bike.
  • The 3rd Law of Behavior Change is make it easy:  The most effective way to learn is to practice not plan, so just get started. If you spent all your efforts thinking about the issue, researching, and gathering information but never took any action to execute, you are simply in motion. Instead, focus on performing the behavior . Habits are formed when we repeat the behavior over and over. Remember the amount of time you spend performing the habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.
  • The 4th Law of Behavior is make it satisfying: “We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying.” So the “The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change states that “What is immediately rewarded is repeated and what is immediately punished is avoided. “If you want to get a habit to stick, you need to feel immediately successful—even if it’s in a small way. So come up with a way to reward yourself for performing the behavior.

Afterall all is said and done, there is no magic bullet for behavior change. Any kind of meaningful change takes time, intentionality, commitment, and consistency. Some days will be harder than others and what works for me might be different for you. So just get started.

Until next time, Remember, It’sALearningLife.

P.S. If you want to learn more about behavior change, breaking bad habits and building better ones, check out James Clear’s website for more insights.

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Habit Check : What Your Habits Say About You!

Habit Check
Change Habits

All bad habits start slowly and gradually and before you know you have the habit, the habit has you.”

Zig Ziglar

Have you ever driven home or to work with no memory of how you got there, or completed a chore or task without any recollection of what you did?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. Much of what we do from the moment we wake up to when we go to sleep is based on habits we perform on autopilot. In fact, research tell us that “approximately 43% of our daily behaviors are performed out of habit.” So, where you park your car, whether you park facing in or out, what you reach for first when you wake up and what you do next, your entire morning routine is made up of small or big habits.

How Habits Work?

A  habit  is defined as “A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” Our habits usually emerge from decisions we made long ago, stopped thinking about but kept on doing thereafter. But when you think about it, it should be quite unsettling that we live so much of our lives largely unaware of our unconscious behaviors. Nevertheless, our habits become so much a part of us that people come to know us by them and form expectations of us from them as well. While some of our habits and routines are beneficial and help us to be more efficient and effective, not all of them are. Bad habits can undermine our overall personal effectiveness and negatively impact our relationships, finances, health, productivity as well as our physical and mental well-being.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Habit Formation Process-Image
The Habit Formation Process

The Habit Formation Process

Habits help us get through our daily lives by removing the need for us to make tiny little decisions on everything and free us up to focus on things that are new and different. In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explained that once a behavior becomes a habit, the decision-making part of our brains go into a sleep mode of sorts and the brain starts working less and less and can almost completely shut down. The real advantage of this is that we can do complex activities such as parallel parking a car without having to think about it while devoting our mental activity to something else.”

So how do habits form? Duhigg explained that every habit functions the same way and has three parts: the cue, the routine, and the reward.  Together, these three parts create a habit loop which is innate in all of us and is like a tape that plays repeatedly.

  1. The Cue – This is the trigger that prompts our behavior and makes our brain go in autopilot mode. The cue can be an emotion, a time of day, something in the environment, other people or a pattern of behavior that consistently trigger a certain routine.
  2. The Routine – This is the behavior itself; the action you take in response to the cue.
  3. The Reward – This is the why you do it or the benefit you gain from doing the behavior. This is perhaps the most important part of the habit loop and is the reason the habits exist.

Every time we perform the behavior and experience the reward, our brain releases dopamine (feel good hormone) or a sense of relief that communicates to our brains that the activity is meaningful and whether to remember it or not. And so, a habit is formed. Some habits have immediate rewards, while others have hidden rewards. As you might appreciate, habits with immediate rewards are easier to pick up, whereas those with delayed rewards are more difficult to commit to and maintain. This explains why people find it easier to pick up their phone and scroll through Facebook and Instagram or, sit on the couch and watch TV rather than exercising or going to the gym.

Habit Word cloud-Image
Habit Word Cloud

Your Habits and You

One example of how the habit loop works for me is with my nightly routine of cleaning the kitchen before I go upstairs to prepare for bed. My cue for cleaning the kitchen comes around 10:00 p.m. when I started feeling tired am prompted to go upstairs for bed. My routine is to wash the dishes, wipe the stove, clean the counter, and ensure that there is nothing left in the sink. The reward I get is the pleasure of seeing a clean and clear kitchen because I really dislike going to bed with a dirty kitchen. So, every night when I turn the lights out and head upstairs to prepare for bed, I feel satisfied knowing that when I go downstairs in the morning, a clean kitchen will greet me as I start my day.

Some of my other habits include saying grace before meals, craving a cup of warm team with cinnamon and vanilla every night as I relax, to even checking the doors before I go to sleep. I perform these tasks automatically without making any decision to. So, what are the cues, routines, and rewards in your life? What is your cue for exercising, picking up your cellphone several times a day to check for messages or notifications or scroll mindlessly? Is it an emotion? For those of you who enjoy a drink after work or at the end of the day- what is your prompt? And for the bingers who enjoy watching movies– is it moving to the couch, picking up the remote that leads to a 3–6-hours binge of Netflix series or movies?

It is also important to note that our habits can be dangerous. For some people, poor habits can show up as addiction to smoking, alcohol, junk or comfort foods, social media or as procrastination, poor relationship decisions, lifestyle diseases and huge amounts of credit card debt due to online shopping. When we stop thinking about our decisions and take all of actions based on habit, we run the risk of operating on fixed mindsets (see last post), bias and stereotypes. When and where we do so, our decisions can impact other people negatively and sabotage the best outcomes for ourselves. Additionally, our habits can cause us to be absent-minded in our interactions with others and not be present in the moment, thereby preventing us from engaging with our loved ones in meaningful ways. 

Final Thoughts on Habits

So, are we stuck with our habits?  No, not all. Habits can be hard to change but not impossible. The first and most crucial step in fixing or changing our habits is to become aware of them.  So, what is one habit that you really want to change? How does that habit serve you or not serve you? What new habit do you want to build? Stay tuned for next week post ‘Building Better Habits – The Fours Laws of Behavior (Part 2.) Until next time, Remember It’s A Learning Life!

If you want to change your life, change your habits.


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