Creating New Habits

This session is all about creating new habits, but first, we are going to look at what a habit really is. A habit is any regularly repeated behaviour that requires little or no thought on your behalf and is learned rather than natural. A habit, which can be part of any activity, ranging from eating and sleeping to thinking and reacting is developed through strengthening and repetition. If you were to carry out a search on how long it takes to create a new habit, you will find many conflicting answers. Some say 28 days, some 66 days, but the truth is, it’s dependant on the individual. Habits that are formed when emotions are involved, can be somewhat more difficult to break. The individual would need to break the emotional attachment in order to create a new, healthier habit, one that will add value to their life. 

 

Your brain is always working, it never stops, ever. So naturally, it will always look for ways to save itself some effort, thus, it creates habits. Your brain will try to make as many routines, habits as it can. A habit is generally formed in 3 steps, first, it will identify a cue or a trigger which will signal the mind to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, this could be physical, mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. After a while, your brain will think that this is right and what you want, and so, the habit is born. 

 

When the habit emerges, the brain sort of takes a break, or focuses its attention on something else, it doesn’t need to work so hard because it knows the habit is doing the job automatically and thus, it can sit back and relax. We all know that feeling right? But here’s the thing, you always have complete control over your brain, so unless you fight your brain over its chosen habit, the patterns will continue to unfold. 

 

Unfortunately, your brain will always have an automatic mode that it uses, so we cannot simply banish a habit, we have to replace it. This is where you come in. You need to create a new habit, a healthier one, a habit that serves you well and helps you to become stronger and healthier. It will take a bit of work on your part, as you will need to retrain your brain. The signals are sent via neural pathways and over time, your brain will adapt to the new pathways and stop using the old. Remember earlier when we mentioned they were developed through strengthening and repetition? This is where you have to, for a period of time step in consciously take control. It could take one month, it could take two, it all depends on you, as a unique, individual human being. 

 

In January 2019, I quit drinking alcohol for eight months and it completely changed my relationship with alcohol. For a long time, I’d been a binge drinker, drinking a lot, every weekend and sometimes during the week and it was affecting my emotional health and my physical health. It took me a long time to work out that it was the booze affecting my mental stability and causing acne, but when I did, I knew I needed to take drastic action. I’d previously done the whole no drinking for one month and felt great after, but I had always reverted back to my old ways. So for me, I had to stick to my new routine for a whopping eight months, to really ensure that my brain had learned my new habit and that I had completely detached emotionally. Since September, I have enjoyed a few glasses of wine, without needing or wanting to get drunk, I have been sober throughout Christmas and New Year without feeling like I’m missing out and my overall health and productivity have improved immensely. Finally, in 2019 I visited five countries because I had extra cash to use, that I was no longer spending on drunk weekends out! 

 

Now, I am not saying you need to quit alcohol, I am asking you to look at your own habits and identify the ones you feel are not serving you. 

Let's get started!

First things first, let's get ready. Grab yourself a notepad or workbook and pen and a hot drink. It is time to just relax and focus on yourself!

 

Ask yourself, why are you wanting to make new, healthier habits?

It’s great to be inspired by others, but it is really important for you to know why it is YOU want to make these changes!

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What habits are you looking to change in 2020?

Write as many as you need to, you may find you only have the one big one, but you also might find you have more.

 

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When replaced, which of these habits will have the greatest positive impact on your life right now?

Choose the BIG one, the one you feel most strongly about changing today!

 

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How will your life improve when you have created this new, healthier habit?

Think about whether this new habit will be meaningful and worthwhile in the short-term and long-term future. 

 

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What fears or concerns do you have about changing this habit?

Looking at potential stumbling blocks now will make it much easier to overcome in the future. 

 

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How can you overcome this fear or concern?

It is easy to abandon your goals when the going gets tough, but by breaking it down, now, you’ll better prepare yourself for the future.

 

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How can you hold yourself accountable for these changes?

Come up with a way to keep track of new habits, perhaps you can rope in a friend to check in with you?

 

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What can you do to give yourself small rewards along the way? 

It is really important to reward yourself as you go, not only will it keep you going forward, it’ll also send a signal to your brain, letting it know this new system works!

 

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How will you make sure you stick to your new habit/routine?

Make a plan, what do you have to do or change to make sure you stick to the habit and ensure it becomes a part of your life? 

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Great, now we have a plan in place, it’s time to move onto the next part - Mindfulness. 

 

Mindfulness ties in with habits, you see, your brain always takes direction from you and what you are thinking and feeling, it then processes this information and spits out a behaviour based on what you have told it. Being mindful of your thoughts and feelings can help your brain to develop better behaviours. Let’s look at an example:

Cue/Trigger – I am in isolation for 3 weeks.

Thought – “I feel trapped and I am worried about what is going to happen in the future.”

Feeling – stress, frustration, anxiety

Behaviour – I stay home, but feel agitated and stressed out the whole time. I start to binge on sugary fatty snack food. Now, I have a habit.

The above is just an example of how the brain processes the information you give it. But let’s look at an alternate scenario.

 

Cue/Trigger – I am in isolation for 3 weeks.

Thought – “I don’t like this situation right now, but I know it is important for me to be here, so whilst I am, I will find something productive and fun to do.”

Feeling – ease, contentment, hope.

Behaviour – I use this time productively, with a positive attitude. I read that book I have never found time for. I listen to that inspiring podcast and finally clear out the cupboards. I also find new ways to exercise at home, which makes me feel better.

Mindfulness has been one of the big words of the past few years, with more and more people becoming aware of its existence. So what does it mean?

 

Being Mindful is when you purposely bring attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment. This includes being mindful of your own thoughts and feelings. When you bring your attention to what it is you are thinking, you are able to, at that moment change it to something that is better for you, like in the examples above. 

I must insist that you do not judge yourself for any negative thoughts, remember you are a human living in a world that is at times quite chaotic. Just acknowledge that you thought that way and change it. Over time, the habit will kick in and you will naturally start having more positive and constructive thoughts than you do negative. 

 

We live in very segregated and uncertain times, so it’s really important for us to start taking back control of our lives, instead of idly allowing them to be controlled by our surroundings. Start taking note of what you are thinking and how you are talking to yourself. This will really help you to make and stick to your new healthy habits. 

 

You are the boss here, it’s time to take control!