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good habit bad habit

We are creatures of habit.

Most of us have a daily routine that we stick to—waking up at a certain time, making coffee, eating breakfast, commuting to work. It’s how we bring order to our lives and make sense of the day. For those of you who follow a set routine, you understand the power of habit. What happens to your day if, say, you’re unable to have your morning coffee? Or you get stuck in traffic on the way to the office? Things tend to feel strange and your day may feel off-kilter.

That’s why bad habits are so hard to break.

A habit, whether good or bad, is comfortable. It’s part of the fabric of your life. If, for example, you begin working through lunch and eating food purchased from the vending machine, after a while that will feel normal and the habit will be hard to break. On the flip side, if you make sure to pack yourself a nutritious lunch every day and take time away from your desk to eat it, you’ll get used to that routine.

Even though you may consciously realize that your bad habits may cause lasting, damaging effects, it’s difficult to break away from them. In their book, The Power of Focus, authors and entrepreneurs Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Les Hewitt strategize on ways to build healthy habits and shed the unhealthy ones. They recommend working on changing one bad habit at a time and replacing it with a new, healthy one.

Here’s how to do it in 4 steps:

  1. Clearly identify your bad or unproductive habits

This is a step that involves a good deal of reflection on your part. You may need to call upon external help (such as assistance from a therapist or life coach) to help you clearly label your bad habits. In some cases, a daily habit may not seem too terrible on its own (i.e. getting 5 hours of sleep at night or working late and missing family dinner), but the long-term consequences might be severe.

  1. Define your new successful habit

Identify a new, healthy habit and envision what that will look like in your life. Canfield, Hansen, and Hewitt advise you to “create a clear picture of what this new habit will do for you. The more vividly you describe the benefits, the more likely you are to take action.” Remember, it’s okay to start small and build up your arsenal of good habits as you go along.

  1. Create an action plan

You’ve honed in on areas in your life you want to improve, deciding to take different (usually opposite) courses of action to beat out bad habits. Now, you’re ready to get the ball rolling. Take the time to “make a decision about which specific actions you are going to implement.”

Visualize each actions. What practical steps do you need to take to form a new habit? What actions will boost your chance of success? The action plan will propel you from visualizing changes you wish to see, to actually feeling empowered to make them. What’s more, having a written copy of your plan (and placing it somewhere where you will see it!) will help hold you accountable.

  1. Set a start date.

Get yourself psyched up for the start of a new chapter in your life. Setting a start date is vital to your action plan and helps you start strong.

Canfield, Hansen and Hewitt use the example of someone who takes too much work home on the weekends. They look honestly at the consequences of this habit (“Family time restricted, feeling guilty, important relationships become polarized”), visualize the benefits freeing up the weekend completely (“more relaxed, reduced stress levels, create unique family experiences”), and make a 3-step action plan to get there:

  1. Design my work better by not overcommitting.
  2. Delegate secondary tasks to staff to free up my time.
  3. Have my family keep me accountable. No golf if I don’t follow through!

Start Date: February 3rd

As with any change we make in our lives, repetition is key. To make better habits, you’ll have to keep fighting the brainless tendency we have to continue the bad habits we’ve created. This may be difficult at first, but if you stick to the action plan and keep your focus toward the future, you’ll soon find that you’re actually doing the good habits without having to think about them. Think about how good that will feel!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

Source: Canfield, Jack, Mark Victor Hansen and Les Hewitt. The Power of Focus. Florida: Health Communications, 2011.

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