When I was a teenager my dad took me on a history trip to Boston. As we navigated our way through the streets looking for different historical landmarks I was amazed at the random pattern of the streets. They seemed to branch off in nonsensical directions in no uniform pattern. This was hard on me because back home in Mesa, Arizona the streets were on a grid. Every street ran east-west or north-south so it was easy to find everything and almost impossible to get lost or turned around.
After a long day of taking unwanted detours and retracing our steps, we asked the concierge in the hotel how anybody got around in the city. He smiled and said, “You know, I have a lot of people ask me that question. Let me tell you a little about the history of these streets.”
He told us that when the town first formed it was a collection of small homes and shops. There were no roads at all in the city back then, just foot paths that developed when the townspeople walked from their home to the butcher or to the blacksmith or the baker. Each home was connected to the major shops and all of the shops were connected to each other by similar paths. Nothing was set up on a grid or planned. The quickest way from point A to point B was a straight line from your doorstep to your destination.
As the city grew, the paths became more engrained as many of them started to have more horses and carriages traveling along them. Because they were so well defined, they became the major paths of travel. People didn’t take the time to cut through a field if there was a good path close by.
Eventually the major paths were widened and paved. Automobiles came about and instead of reworking the whole system, they just turned the major paths into paved roads. What started as a small foot path to get from the butcher to the baker was now a major road in the heart of a bustling metropolitan city.
What does this have to do with habits?
It has been said that we are all made up of a bundle of habits. Our habits are specific to us and they govern 95% of what we do during the day. Some habits are new, some are old. Some are positive, some are negative. Some are weak and easy to change, some are strong and deeply engrained. Whatever combination of habits we have developed in our life determines much of who we are and what we will accomplish.
When we first try to start a new habit, like eating more healthy, exercising regularly, or flossing, it is difficult to get going. It feels like such a struggle to make the change. It is like forging the new path through a field of weeds. But if we stick with it, the next day is always a little easier. After a week it doesn’t seem like much of a chore at all. Within 3 months it is no longer a new habit; it is an established habit. At that point, it is difficult to go back to the way you did things before.
Who is to say exactly what are the “right” habits to have? Some habits work for one person but are detrimental to someone else. Determining a list of universal “right” habits may be impossible but I do know their are some definite habits that are common to people who are successful at home, at work, and in life.
Here are some tips for developing effective habits:
#1 – Know what you want and write it down. I know I talk about setting goals in every post but I am a big believer and I want you to be also. Decide on the result you want before you start deciding the habits to form. If your goal is to lose 10 pounds in 3 months, write that down first and then start listing the habits you want to form that will help you accomplish your goal: eating more healthy, jogging every night, portion control, etc.
#2 – Set your start date. Decide when you will be prepared and ready to start. It may not be a good idea to start a new diet or give up alcohol on the day before you are going on an all-inclusive cruise. That being said, don’t fall into the trap of having so many excuses that you never begin.
#3 – Get a blank calendar. We all love to succeed and I have found that small daily successes can really build our momentum. When I am counseling people about changing their habits, I always ask them to get a blank calendar. For each day they accomplish their new habit (or avoid the bad one) I have them put a check mark in that box. If they don’t get it done I have them put an “x”. You would be amazed how good it feels to draw a simple check mark on your calendar. It feels even better to see two or three of them in a row. Once you get to 4-5 days you start to feel the excitement and desire to “keep the streak going.” Before you know it, you have pieced together a couple of weeks and your new habit is formed.
#4 – Push through the temptations. After a few days of going strong your willpower may start to weaken. This is when the hardest part of habit making or breaking occurs. This is when you need to remember the reasons you are changing your habit. What are the benefits of the new habit? Your brain will always resist change so you have to force it into submission in order to accomplish something new. Avoid the temptation of saying, “I did 4 days really well, I can take a day off and start again tomorrow.” If you let this happen too much, you will find that within a couple weeks you have abandoned the whole process. Force yourself to be strong when you don’t feel strong.
I didn’t write this article to sell anything but if you need help forming new habits or re-designing your life, my book “The 3-Week Miracle” has helped hundreds of people to form positive habits in all areas of their life. Check it out!
Your habits will determine your future – both your successes and your failures. If you put the effort into positive habit formation now, it will pay enormous dividends down the road!
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