Much of our day is spent enacting habits that we have developed and allowed to persist over time. We have speaking habits, thinking habits, as well as physical and routine habits.
We revert to using these habits when we aren’t actively working toward something different. Many of our habits are good for us, but others can hurt us and lower our productivity, as well as our mental and personal health.
This article will help you to identify habits, develop strategies for converting destructive habits to good habits, and techniques for forming new habits.
How to Identify Habits
Habits function on a few different scales, and each effects your personal performance differently. If you’re really looking to shake up your life, you can work on identifying your keystone habits. However, some people will want to start a little smaller by identifying daily habits.
Keystone habits, a term coined by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit, refers to habits that create chain reactions in our daily lives. Keystone habits are the reason so many entrepreneurs champion their morning routine. This is because these routines produce outcomes throughout the rest of the day that help their performance.
Keystone habits influence how we eat, work, play, live, and communicate. They allow other habits to grow on top of them, while giving us a feeling of small victories or satisfaction, and they will often plot out the time to reinforce smaller habits that we want for our lives.
Keystone habits can cause negative performance too when we practice them without considering their effect on our lives. For instance, someone who sleeps in late every morning might find that they are always running late or are extra stressed, which can lead into the rest of their day.
To identify keystone habits that you want, or to break keystone habits that you think are hurting your performance, think about how your day is fundamentally shaped and what you do to shape it that way. If you have a keystone habit that is leading you to negative outcomes, can you replace it with one that will lead to more positive outcomes? Such as replacing sleeping in with a more validating morning routine.
Identifying everyday habits requires being mindful of the small, involuntary behaviors that we fall back on. Everyday habits take many forms. These can be verbal habits, such as using filler words, gestures, and behavioral habits, including nail biting and hair pulling, or eating habits, such as a sugar addiction. We also need to consider habits that hog our attention spans and lower our productivity.
These habits are frequently identified as forming loops. The loop consists of a cue, routine, and reward. Even our bad habits are reactions to certain stimuli that we associate with short-term rewards.
Noticing these habits means paying attention to how you react to things and what patterns your reactions form, as well as paying attention to those times that you fall back to doing a certain action without really thinking about it.
Strategies for Converting Destructive Habits
If destructive habits still reward us, why would we want to convert them? Often destructive habits have outcomes that limit our performance, health, and life satisfaction. Sometimes we identify these as time wasters, sometimes they offer us only short-term rewards.
Converting destructive habits requires you to identify habits that would be better to replace the destructive ones. Since many of those destructive habits are your placeholders or your go-to reactions, quitting them without a replacement will be more difficult than finding something else to do when you notice these reactions are cued.
Here are a few tips for converting bad habits to good ones:
- Feel good about yourself. Breaking a bad habit is likely to give you a self-esteem boost that allows you to start small with your changes and develop more as you go.
- It helps to chart your progress. Habit trackers are often used to help you develop new habits, but they can also be used to help you identify when you fall back on bad habits.
- Don’t make excuses. If a bad habit is just something that you’re doing on a bad day, then that bad day is your cue, and you’re essentially feeding that cue. Making excuses affirms the destructive habits. Instead, you can say that now you are aware of the cue and you will be more conscientious to avoid the habit the next time that it’s triggered.
- Seek social support. You can tell people that you’re working on a life change and even seek positive affirmation from others. Seeking social support is not always appropriate in the workplace, but relationships from outside of work can certainly strengthen your resolve.
Techniques for Forming New Habits
As you form new habits, each new habit will affirm you and raise your self-confidence. This will help you work on more improvements.
Even though you might be excited about starting to add many positive habits into your life, try not to take on too many very big changes all at once. Trying to change too much will make reversion much more likely. Instead, target a keystone habit change that will allow smaller habits to grow more easily.
Use schedule breaks to alter your habits, such as vacations or times of the year when your schedule shifts to something completely different, such as the fall. Just be careful that you don’t choose a temporary situation where it’s easy to fall back into old patterns afterward. If you really want to make a change, you should keep your resolve through your normal schedule.
You can use a habit tracker to keep up with your progress and even start something like a 100 day project to help you appreciate and document your journey.
We can’t get away from the fact that our daily lives are made up of habits, but we can decide to take control of them. Replacing habits that we’re less proud of with habits that make our lives better increases our self-confidence, life satisfaction, and work performance.