A lot of us can identify one or more habits we may have formed that have not been very helpful to us. They don’t take us to the destination we want to get to; rather, they distract and remove our focus and energy. Habits like fear, lack of focus or concentration, inability to follow through, procrastination, and etcetera.
We may have wondered; how do we break these old, unproductive habits? How do we form new and much more productive ones?
Before I proceed, I have a little good news for you. Habits, after being formed, can be broken, and can be broken real good. New positive habits too can be formed. All it takes is decision, and consistent execution.
It takes about 21 days of consistent action to make or break a habit. Let me take it to practical terms. If I wanted to exercise and run consistently, it would take me about 21 days for daily running/exercising to be a part of me. After 21 days, it becomes so ingrained in my behaviour. It becomes normal to run/exercise and abnormal not to. The same principle follows for breaking habits.
So, over the next 21 days, let’s practically put it to the test – and the task. And to make it easier, I’ll make the steps short and as simple as possible.
1. Where in your life and activities do you want to see improvement? Time management? Healthy lifestyle? Ability to follow through? E.t.c.
2. What are the lifestyle/behavioural factors that hinder you from seeing improvements in this area of your life? For time management weaknesses, it could be late night TV watching, or procrastination. But you know it’s the root cause of the symptoms you see.
3. Pick a small area of improvement first. Still using the analogy of time management, a lot of aspects exists to it: there is lateness to work, failure to meet up deadlines, tardiness to meetings, and so forth. Trying to improve on all of these areas at once is likely to be overwhelming, so you pick just one area that you can improve upon and allow that improvement spread to other time-affected areas of your life. Say, we pick, lateness to work as the area to change.
4. Decide what you’ll do: I will never come late to work again. I’m going to build the habit of punctuality to the office.
5. Get out of the company of people that encourage the old habits. I can’t decide to quit smoking and still hang out with my smoker friends. In the same vein, I can’t decide to be a punctual person to work and keep company with people who are tardy. We absorb the behaviours of the people that are closest to us. It’s that simple.
6. Create a benchmark, a minimum acceptable standard of behaviour in that area: I will leave the house latest by 6: 00 AM. (In Lagos, it can be as terrible as 5: 00 AM or 5: 30 AM) to achieve this. Of course having calculated what time it would take you to get to the office.
7. Eliminate the obstacles one day at a time. You watch TV late into the night? Start turning it off by 8: 30 PM, at least the first day, and then the second day, and then the third day. Watch it reflect on your sleeping and waking habits.
8. Create benchmarks and long term goals for yourself and reward yourself when you hit them. I have a month long plan of activities I must be consistent on every day. Every day I am consistent, I tick a dated-box off. And over the month, I’m able to evaluate how successful I am in keeping my commitment to myself and I reward myself on that basis. You can work on something like that for yourself too. It would be helpful in making you see beyond now, into the long term.
9. Do it, and do it, and do it…yeah, for 21 days, recording your improvements along the way. For bad habits, it would be: Don’t do it, don’t do it, and don’t do it, for 21 days. Allow yourself enjoy the pleasure and self esteem that comes from disciplining yourself. By the 21st day, your activities must have solidified into habits.
10. Don’t just be accountable to yourself. Be accountable to someone else. It’s easy not to follow through when you make commitments to yourself in your bedroom, but when you’ve shared them with a friend, one you trust and absolutely confide in, and he is your observer, and probably evaluating your activities, you’re less likely to allow yourself derail.
I hope this has been helpful. And I’m hoping you’ve taken a step further in improving yourself
Thank you very much for paying attention.
Written By Amarachi Obiago