“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
The 7 Steps to kicking your old and limiting habit and introducing a new and empowering one, are as follows:
1. Choose your limiting habit;
2. Identify your trigger situations;
3. Identify previous reward for limiting habit;
4. Rate intensity level of old reward out of ten;
5. Introduce & articulate your new positive habit;
6. Create & rate intensity level of new reward;
7. Replace old habit with the new one when
trigger situation arises.
Here's a little more detail on each step and some info. on how to do it all in 21 days:-
STEP 1 - CHOOSE LIMITING HABIT
If you look closely at your life and are brutally honest with yourself right now I think you know which habits are holding you back and preventing you from achieving your full potential. Do you watch too much TV or play video games at the expense of exercising or studying for instance, or eat too much junk food?
I'll be honest with you; one of my limiting habits was wasting time. I'd find just about any excuse to put things off until the very last minute instead of focussing on my university assignments. Whenever I had an assignment due I would delay and dwell on it and would welcome any distraction. I had identified with being the last minute man and the king of procrastination. In fact whenever an assignment was due you would always find me bolting through the university campus at top speed with my paper in hand running toward the drop-in-box. Anyway, I knew something had to be done about this habit as it was causing me too much stress and average grades.
So, right now be honest with yourself, choose a limiting habit that you want to break and that is holding you back from being the best possible version of yourself and write it down.
STEP 2 - IDENTIFY TRIGGER SITUATION/S
Now that we have identified our limiting habit (that we will shortly replace), the next step is to identify all the potential cues or life situations that trigger that habit into effect.
In my example above, my trigger situations included any distraction that would entertain me whenever I had work that was due. So if I was sitting in front of my computer typing my assignment and I could hear the television then I would convince myself I needed a break and would run this internal dialogue that would say; okay watch this program that goes for half an hour and then get back into it, or if my telephone was in sight then I would pick it up and either play with it or call a friend.
Identifying the cues or life situations that trigger our habits are crucial because these are the prompts that our subconscious mind picks up on before giving the command for our habit to take place. It’s a bit like an actor on cue – going out on stage when s/he here’s a certain line or detects a change in the scene. It is these specific life situations that trigger our inner habits, which is why it is crucial that we identify all of them.
So, have a good think about all the life scenarios that trigger your limiting habit/s and write them down.
STEP 3 - IDENTIFY REWARD FOR LIMITING HABIT
Now that we have identified our limiting habit and the life situations that trigger it into effect, we need to dig a little deeper and find out what our reward is for that limiting habit. In other words, what do we get out of it?
Continuing with my example, my reward for putting everything off to the last minute was the immediate short term pleasure I would get out of doing anything but the work I was supposed to be doing. This would range from anything from watching television, or surfing the net, to socialising with friends. These happy distractions would occupy my time and provide me with the justification I needed to put off what had to be done.
Identifying the reward is important because we’re delving deeper into the mind and asking its motive: Why am I acting out in this way, what am I getting out of it – what is the reason or stimulus here? By asking these questions we’re pin-pointing the catalyst behind our repeated actions, or in my case, inaction.
So have a go at answering this question right now and write down your answer: What are my rewards for my limiting habit?
STEP 4 - IDENTIFY INTENSITY LEVEL OF THAT REWARD
Now that you’ve identified your limiting habit, your trigger situations and the associated reward, I’m going to ask you to measure the intensity level of that reward. So, from a scale between one and ten (one being the lowest and ten being the highest intensity level), rate your reward.
For instance, I’ve already stated that I would get a short term kick or reward from my habit of procrastination. If I was to measure this reward, for instance let’s say my assignment was due tomorrow and I was watching one of my favourite movies starting at 8:30pm, then my reward would be around the “4-5 mark” because I know I’ve seen the movie before and I know I’m just delaying the inevitable. I’m getting short term pleasure but know in the back of my mind that I’m going to be up all night finishing my assignment.
When we rate or measure how much our reward truly means to us we begin to realise that the reward is only temporary and not life changing in any way. We’re about to find out very shortly why this is so important.
Carry out this step right now, write down the intensity level of the reward for your previous limiting habit.
STEP 5 - INTRODUCING NEW POSITIVE HABIT
Now that we've identified the limiting habit we’re about to eradicate, we need to ask ourselves: What action and habit would I like to replace my previous limiting habit with? More often than not this will be the antithesis or opposite of our negative habit.
So using my example above, I wanted to replace my procrastinating habit with one of proactive and affirmative action. I had to become organised and implement a positive habit of getting the work done in a timely fashion minus the distractions.
You need to envisage with great clarity what your new positive habit will look and feel like. You need to picture yourself carrying out every detail of it and think about the associated feelings (like gratification and confidence).
Write down what your new positive habit is, then close your eyes, pay attention to your breath and see yourself carrying out your new habit with great clarity – feel the associated feelings.
STEP 6 - INTRODUCTION OF NEW REWARD & NEW INTENSITY LEVEL
We’re now going to create and introduce a new reward for our new habit which should exceed the intensity level of our old reward.
In my example above I gave my old reward of temporary pleasures a 4 or 5 out of 10. My new habit was going to be proactive and affirmative action until my task at hand was complete. My trigger situations included things like hearing the television in the background or leaving my phone within sight. Now I have to admit simply inserting my new behaviour whenever I was confronted with such distractions was easier said than done. My brains inner dialogue was screaming at me saying things like; COME ON! WE’RE JUST GOING TO WATCH THIS ONE PROGRAM AND THEN DO OUR WORK! I needed to make my new reward much greater than the 4 or 5 if my brain was even going to consider carrying out my new positive habit. So, I set about writing down a list of all the benefits I would gain from doing my assignments a lot sooner. It really became abundantly clear to me once I wrote all these factors down, just how much I had to gain by changing my limiting habits.
My list included things like:-
• Minimisation of unnecessary stress and anxiety;
• Feeling of satisfaction knowing that I had completed my assignment before time; and
• Freeing up of spare time I could spend on other recreational activities.
I visualised each and every benefit or new reward and realised that the combination of these factors by far outweighed the measly 4 or 5 intensity points I had given my previous short-term reward. Consequently, my new reward was an 8 out of 10.
Take some time and have a solid think about what your new reward for your new habit will be. Then make a list of the positive outcomes arising from your new habit.
Then combine them and rate their intensity level. Try and really feel that level of reward. This is going to be the new, positive and reinforced reason for carrying out your new habit.
In two sentences write down what your new reward is for your new habit and what the intensity level rating for that reward is.
STEP 7 - IMPLEMENTATION OF NEW HABIT
Now comes the most challenging and exciting part of forming our new positive habit: We have already identified the trigger situations that kick start our old habits, we’re now going to introduce our new positive habit whenever the same trigger situations arises.
Now I didn’t say this is going to be easy as remember, your brain is subconsciously programmed to insert the old habit whenever the trigger situation presents itself (because it has repeated the same action thousands of times and knows that the old habit is going to lead you to your reward or desired outcome).
However, something different is now going on – you’ve become aware of how the process works (!) – your conscious mind is observing its subconscious counterpart and by identifying the previous triggers or cues to our repetitive actions, can pin-point the exact moment when we say; No, Stop! This is now the cue for my new habit!
This is the ultimate challenge because your brain will be screaming out at you to continue with the old path it has become accustomed to. There’s a famous quote by American author and physician Orison S. Marden that sums up this process nicely:
“The beginning of a habit is like an invisible thread, but every time we repeat the act we strengthen the strand, until it becomes a great cable and binds us irrevocably”.
In order for your new action to be successful and to turn into your new positive habit it will require two important ingredients: Firstly, it will need a constant reminder of your new reward that supersedes the old rewards intensity level and secondly, it will need to be repeated over and over again until it turns into that great cable that Marden is talking about and becomes second nature or a habit. So be sure to have your written points above handy to remind yourself of what you’re going to accomplish, record your trials and tribulations and remember: make this a part of your daily routine -- repetition is key!
[Get started today by taking the 21 DAY CHALLENGE (see below)].
21 DAY CHALLENGE
For the next 21 days I challenge you to identify & confront your limiting habit head-on by replacing it with your new positive habit when ever your trigger situation/s arise.
If you accept the challenge and make an effort to apply the steps above, I guarantee that you will not only will feel better about yourself but will feel more confident and be well on your way to kicking that old habit forever by replacing it with your new positive one.
Get yourself a calendar and circle today. Count 21 days from now and circle that date. In the next three weeks you will become the master of your thoughts and actions and surprise yourself with respect to what you’re capable of.
It's a good idea to record your little successes along the way. By keeping record of the times when you’re confronted with your life trigger situations, you will have a clear account of how frequently and exactly when they occur. This way you can either avoid or change them in some way or know exactly when you’re about to be tested. This moment of conscious awareness is the cue to implement your new habit.
Good luck and just keep at it! If you're at the end of this article and are reading these words right now there's something deep inside you that wants to change and believes in your capacity to do so. I have the utmost faith in you and in your ability to succeed in this challenge. Let me know how you went in the space below.
“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.”
– Thomas Jefferson