Personal Habits: How the Little Things Can Lead to Big Changes

shutterstock_102145792I have memories of myself being three or four years old – small enough to fit easily under the living room coffee table – and in these memories, I am biting my nails.  I do not know when or why I started.  I don’t think there was any one moment where I thought “Oh hey, this will be a great idea,” and chomped down on my fingers. As far as my memories are concerned, this is a habit I have always had.  If I make the effort, I can often stop.  Right now, for example, I am looking down at my nicely manicured, un-bitten nails as I type this.  However, it is just as easy to slip up and fall back into the nail biting.  Long car rides seem to do me in, as do unusually stressful situations.  I can clearly remember biting my nails down to ragged nubs when I first realized just how little sleep I could expect as a new parent.  A little break in my resolve is all it takes sometimes.

Bad habits are hard to break, and it can sometimes require constant vigilance to keep them at bay.  The good news is that good habits can be every bit as effective and “sticky” as their less desirable counterparts.  After working to establish positive habits, you will find that you are slipping into them as automatically and as naturally as that nail biting I mentioned.  Something else I should mention: about 10 years ago, I decided I was going to make an effort to drink more water.  Now?  It’s a habit.  Save for my one cup of coffee in the mornings, water is all I drink, and I refill my glass every time I pass the sink.  It’s automatic now.  That very same repetitive “auto pilot” we so often associate with bad habits can work to your advantage.  It’s just a matter of making it work for good habits.

Step 1: Identify The Problem

personal habitsI don’t care who you are talking to, or how charmed their existence may seem; if you ask anyone if there are habits they would like to change, they will say “yes”.  It is important to recognize this step as a bit of preliminary detective work, and try to keep emotion out of it.  Sometimes, we let those “I wish” statements pile up on us, and before we know it, we’re completely overwhelmed.  “I have to eat right, I have to exercise, I have to get to bed earlier, I have to stop looking at my phone so much, I have to be a better employee…” Stop.  Relax, and try to look at your habits objectively.

Zero in on one aspect of your life that you want to improve.  Let’s say it’s “finances”, something many of us could stand to work on.  What is your biggest financial obstacle?  Is it overdraft fees?  Debt?  Perhaps it’s just an overall feeling of helplessness when it comes to understanding a budget.  This is a good place to start.  You have a few things that are bothering you in one very specific aspect of your life, and now you can begin to focus on changing them.  Time to come up with a plan, so you can begin implementing positive changes.

Step 2: Frame Your Habit in a Positive Way

personal habitsNow that you have a pretty good idea of what you would like to work on, it’s really important to frame it in a positive light.  Instead of saying “I have to stop eating junk food,” instead try saying something like “I want to eat three servings of fruit and vegetables every day.”  That not only gives your plan for good habits some structure, but it takes the heat off you a little bit.

So often, we look at ourselves in a negative way, and it’s easy to see why.  We are bombarded every day with images and advertisements trying to sell us the perfect life.  Naturally, you are going to compare yourself to these fictional images, and begin picking out all the things you don’t have.  Why not turn that around, and instead look at these things realistically?  The success you see in these advertisements can be achieved in small ways, simply by creating good, positive habits.  “I have to get out of this apartment”, can become “I am setting up a savings account, and having a portion of my paycheck automatically deposited.  This way, I can save for a house.”  That second statement is goal oriented, and it states a specific action you can perform regularly.

Step 3: Remind Yourself

personal habitsBefore something becomes a habit, it is simply another item on your to-do list.  This is why it is so important to create reminders, motivating you to keep up these good activities.  Do this in whatever way works best for you.  If your new habits are fitness oriented, reprogram your GPS so that your preferred route home must go past the gym.  If you want to incorporate a new, useful skill into your life, try signing up for a weekly class to make sure you are participating in this activity regularly.

These new habits are just that: new.  It will take a lot of repetition before they become a natural part of your day, so make sure you are repeating them.  You can try marking your calendar with end-of-week notes like “How many hours of sleep this week?”, or “How many meals cooked at home?”  Use these not only as reminders, but also as motivation to beat your own record.

If nothing else, the age of the smart phone is fantastic for reminders.  You can set them to chime automatically whenever you need a reminder, and that will hopefully get your attention.  After a little while, you will find you don’t even need these reminders anymore.

Positivity is key if you are going to succeed, and Udemy knows this.  With that in mind, they offer a great class called “The Science of Happiness and Success“.  Try it today!