How much have you progressed in the past five years?
Has your life gone up, down, or is it at the same place?
Think carefully about these questions and answer them.
If you can see a difference and you have improved over the past five years, you took some actions to do that.
If you did not improve in the past five years and instead went downhill, you also took some actions that led you to where you are today.
If you did not change and are at the same place as five years ago, you still took some actions that helped you maintain the same position in life.
Confused, right? Shouldn’t different things lead to these different outcomes? Yes, they do, but their base is the same.
Your habits form the base and decide where you end up in your life.
Habits seem insignificant, but in reality, they are the most important thing we need to achieve success in life.
Do you want to learn how you can control your habits to achieve success? Do you want to control your actions instead of letting them control you? Do you want the next five years of your life to be progressive, successful, and optimistic?
Read this post till the end, and you’ll learn exactly how you can build good habits and get rid of bad ones to take your life uphill.
This video is also available in video format on my YouTube channel which you can watch here:
What is a habit?
If you go on the internet and search for the definition of a habit, you’ll find many different meanings.
But all of them, whether directly or indirectly, lead to a simple meaning.
A habit is an action that you repeat consistently until it becomes natural or automatic. Bathing, sleeping, brushing your teeth, eating food, opening Instagram the first thing in the morning, checking your email every five minutes, and going for a walk each morning all are different habits that you can have in your life.
Habits are both good and bad, and there’s only one thing we need to know to differentiate between these two:
Any action or habit that harms you physically, emotionally, or mentally and stops your growth and progress is a bad habit. Any action that helps you improve your physical, emotional, or mental health and helps you progress in life and grow is a good habit.
Can we control our habits?
Yes, we can. Any action that we take consistently is our own choice. No one can force a habit on us; we allow and choose the habit to take control of us.
Most people who get into bad habits like excessive smoking and drinking started out young because they thought, “it was cool” or they “just wanted to try it” or “their friends forced them to.” No matter what the reason is, at the most basic level, the person themselves decided whether or not to smoke or drink.
We can control our habits because they are the result of our choices and our decisions.
Why do we form bad habits?
Our world has evolved very quickly, but some parts of our brain still haven’t. Some mental patterns and traits from the hunter-gatherer era are still with us.
One of them is instant gratification. In the pre-agriculture era, nothing was certain. You wouldn’t know if you could eat after a few hours or not. That’s why it was natural and logical to get to food that was as near and instantly available as possible. This behavior continued for a long time, and the pattern in our brain became, “look for something that gives instant gratification or reward.”
Today though, this has become a problem. We no longer have to worry about the food we’ll eat the following day or even next month. But this trait is still there with us.
Bad habits are pleasurable in the present but harmful over the long term. Due to this trait, our mind overlooks the long-term harm and focuses on present satisfaction.
Watching two hours of Netflix is pleasurable right now but is harmful in the future if you do it consistently. It will harm your eyes and divert you from your goals and the hard work you need to put in. Whereas focusing on your goal and putting in the hard work right now is painful but rewarding in the future.
Naturally, we choose the first option because it offers us instant pleasure and allows us to enjoy something right now. It satiates our desire for instant gratification.
Is there a way around this problem? Can we trick our minds and build good habits instead of bad ones?
We can, but for that, we need to understand how habits develop and hack the process to build great habits.
How to build habits?
There is a four-step system to building habits that I have talked about in my book, Explore the New YOU. You should read this book because it will offer you a better understanding of how you can lead an extraordinary by finding your purpose, setting the right goals, becoming more confident, and building better habits. Click here and buy now!
This four-step system is more of a loop than a system or process because it continues repeatedly and automates the habit. All four parts of the loop are equally crucial as the mind recognizes all of them and creates a habit.
Let’s begin with the first step.
Step 1: The trigger
When do you stop at a gas station to refill your car? Is it when the meter shows the tank is full or when the meter shows it is near-empty? It is the latter. It does not make sense for anyone to stop at a gas station with a full tank in their car.
The fuel meter is your trigger for going to the gas station, and in the same way, the mind also needs a trigger to start or initiate a habit. Until and unless the trigger is not present, no habit will form because the mind will not know when to initiate it.
Waking up in the morning and going to the bathroom can be your trigger to start brushing your teeth. The ringing of your alarm clock is the trigger for you to hit snooze. Picking up your phone in bed when you wake up is your trigger to open Whatsapp or Instagram. Whatever action or habit you have built, there is a certain trigger for it.
If you have the habit of eating excessive junk food and your trigger is the packet of chips you see by your side, you can get rid of this habit and build a new one by doing nothing and just changing the trigger.
Instead of keeping a packet of chips near you, cut some apples and put them in a tiffin box which you keep within your hand’s reach while working. Your habit hasn’t changed, but you have turned it into a good one.
If you have a bad habit you want to get rid of, remove the trigger, and the habit will go away. It will take some time, and you will consciously have to not let the trigger play out, but it will be worth it.
If you set the alarm on your phone, keep it under your pillow, and hit snooze whenever it rings, you can change or remove the trigger by placing your phone somewhere else. This way, the trigger of having your phone under the pillow will not play out, and you will have to get up to snooze off the alarm, and you will be out of bed!
Step 2 Desire
Why would you do something if you don’t have the desire to do it? Why would you hit the snooze button if you don’t have the desire to sleep a little more, and why would you binge eat if you do not have the desire to satisfy your taste buds?
Whatever habit you build, you do it because you want to fulfill a desire. Whether it is eating healthier, exercising, or sleeping on time, these habits are made because you desire to improve your health.
But as we discussed earlier, our mind looks for instant gratification, and in this second step, the desire for things that give us instant pleasure is the strongest.
The best way to cut off bad habits on this level is to make them as undesirable as possible and make the good habits immediately desirable.
Set a punishment for yourself for going back to a bad habit. If you do excessive binge eating, and you want to get rid of it, make it undesirable by declaring, “I will not eat dinner if I eat unnecessarily between any meal.”
You won’t want to miss your dinner, which is why the action will become immediately undesirable.
In the same way, if you want to build the habit of writing every day, you need to make the action immediately desirable by creating a reward for yourself. Make sure that this reward does not conflict with other goals you have. For example, if you want to eat healthier, you can’t keep a reward of ice cream each day that you write. But you can keep the reward of working one less hour each day.
Make the action immediately desirable, and you will start developing that habit.
Step 3 Action
This is where the real stuff happens. You execute the habit or action in this step.
The mind has limited resources, and that is why it always looks to conserve its resources. When an action is easy to do and requires minimal effort, it is more likely to become a habit.
And if an action is very difficult to execute, it is less likely to become a habit.
We can make it challenging to act on bad habits and build systems to make good habits easily executable.
If you want to get over binge eating, put all junk food behind all other food so that gaining access to it becomes very difficult. In the same way, if you want to develop the habit of eating healthy, make healthy food as accessible as possible so that the action is easier.
If you have focus problems, block out all distractions and make them difficult to access.
If you want to start running each day, keep your running shoes and workout clothes right next to your bed the night before so that it is easy for you to wear them and go for a run.
You will control the third step by making bad habits less accessible and making good habits easier to execute.
Step 4 Result
The entire habit loop concludes at this step, where the desire is fulfilled, and the action is taken. When the result is pleasurable, the mind notes that and repeats the pattern. When the result isn’t pleasurable, the mind notes that as well and does not repeat that action.
So, in case of getting rid of bad habits, you need to make the result unpleasurable as you did in step 2. For making good habits, you need to make the result pleasurable, even if it is secondary and not directly linked to the habit.
At first, the punishment for the bad habit and the reward for the good habit will be secondary and not the result of those actions, but our mind won’t be able to make that distinction, and with constant effort, the bad habits will go away, and your good habits will come in.
Now, you may have a question, “How long does it take to form a habit?” On the internet, you will find some people say 21 days while some say 66 days or some other figures. The truth is, it depends on the habit and its frequency.
If you repeat something once a month, it won’t become a habit. But if you repeat something every day and keep doing it consistently over months, it will become a habit.
Repetition matters more than the number of days.
You now know the entire process of developing habits and taking action on them.
No matter what kind of habits you build, they will define your future, whether good or bad. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, rightly said, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” If you build the right habits, you will improve over time.
What do you choose now? Will you blame your habits, or will you take control of them through this process and change your life?
Partnering in your success, happiness, and growth,