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Turning Bad Habits Around

October 6, 2019 by  
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Last week I wrote about the great power of setting big goals and how they stimulate and motivate the brain and the body to go after your big dreams. In his great book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about how important it is to set big goals and little steps for those goals so as to help you form habits that greatly increase your chances of success. Our habits are so critically important to what we do with our lives and how we end up. Yes, there are lots of good habits and lots of bad habits. The good news is that those bad habits that drag us down and might destroy our lives can be changed, even though it does take work and special plans.

One of the keys to breaking bad habits is what he refers to as the “small win”. As he says, “Small wins are exactly what they sound like, and are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes. A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishment of the victories themselves.”

“Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage,” one Cornell professor wrote in 1984. “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging time advantages into pattern that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.”

Hmm. I’d call that the formation of a habit, and that is a very good thing. Okay, but how then do we change a bad habit?

Charles Duhigg gives very good and well tested advice to change a habit. For example, keep an index card or journal and make note of the impulses. If, after a few days, you see a lot of notes, take time to come up with an alternative habit or routine to use every time you feel those negative impulses.

The author has told patients that if, for example, they eat too much and their eating impulse wins most of the time, they should substitute a new desired habit like taking a 3- or 5-minute walk or spending a few minutes on the internet. He talks about one patient that had a life-long habit of biting her fingernails. They came up with a new habit which was to have her simply sit on her hands till the urge left. More than three dozen of his students who were smokers overcame that habit by choosing a new routine or habit every time they had the urge to smoke, like chewing a piece of Nicorette, or doing a quick series of push-ups, or simply taking a few minutes to stretch and relax.

He goes on to say, “It seems ridiculously simple, but once you’re aware of how your habit works, once you recognize the cues and rewards, you’re halfway to changing it … Today, habit reversal therapy is used to treat verbal and physical tics, depression, smoking, gambling problems, anxiety, bedwetting, procrastination, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and other behavioral problems.”

So, come up with a new habit to replace an old and unwanted habit – it really works!

 

Writing Down Your Goals

January 4, 2013 by  
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Since we’ve just started a new year I must say something about renewing and re-dedicating ourselves to our life goals. And there is one super strong and time proven aid I would strongly suggest you use to increase your odds of hitting your goals. It’s something I talk about in my book “How to Ignite Your Passion for Living” but I have another source to show you just how powerful it can be.

For Christmas my son David gave me a book called “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg and WOW what a great book. Duhigg relies on scientific studies to dissect what it takes to form a new habit or dump a habit that you don’t like. In future blogs I want to talk more about “The Power of Habit” but for now I want to address one simple but profound Scottish study that is Duhigg addresses.

In this study a psychologist recruited 60 patients that just had hip or knee replacement surgery. Having personally experienced double hip replacement in the same surgery I know just how painful this kind of surgery can be. Most people don’t want to even move afterward, let alone start walking even though their rehabilitation requires it. This psychologist gave each patient a booklet after their surgeries that detailed their rehab schedule, and in the back were 13 additional pages –one for each week–with blank spaces and instructions:

“My goals for this week are ________________? Write down exactly what you are going to do. For example, if you are going to go for a walk this week, write down where and when you are going to walk.”

Patients were asked to fill in each of those pages with specific plans. After their rehabilitation period the psychologist compared the recovery results of those that filled out the pages and those that did not. Duhigg notes that “It seems absurd to think that giving people a few pieces of blank paper might make a difference in how quickly they recover from surgery.” But it did. Those patients that wrote down their goals recovered much faster than those who didn’t write down a thing.

The great lesson and a lesson that I’ve preached to myself and others for years is we greatly improve our chance of success many times over if we simply write our goals down!  Financial goals, physical goals, family and social goals … it works on all of them. I would also add that you shouldn’t forget to put down the date by which you want to accomplish those goals.

You can read more about goal setting and how written goals can help you in my book  “How to Ignite Your Passion for Living” which is on sale right now on my website.