What Makes a Habit, a Habit?

First, let’s define what I mean by ‘habit’. I consider it a pattern or behaviour  that occurs without forethought. Some we consider ‘good’ and some are ‘bad’, but for the most part we don’t know we’re doing them until it has already happened.

When we want to change a habit, we need to first become conscious of what it is that we’re doing, and then stopping ourselves as we’re doing it.

As a kid, I was a nail-biter and worked hard at getting rid of that nasty habit by using terrible tasting polish that I would paint on my nails. Though it made me aware when my fingers were in my mouth, the polish wasn’t what caused me to stop biting my nails, it was me consciously thinking about what I was doing as I was doing it and forcing myself to stop and change my behaviour. It took some time, but it worked for me and has stuck for decades (I’m not saying how many…). Over the years, I have applied the same ‘training’ to other behaviours that I wanted to change, and most have also remained with me.  I have to rework the ones (like exercising more) on a semi-regular basis.

You’ve probably already read Stephen Covey’s popular best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It is a thought-provoking look at what we humans do, regardless of geography or background, that can be altered to make us effect positive personal change. I first read this book in the early 90s and just recently re-read it. And you know what? All of the principles still apply, and it’s stuff we already know.

All this is a rambling lead in to get you thinking about what it is that you are currently doing that you would like to change — in any part of your life.

From the 7-Habits book, I have recreated this chart to help visualize what  it takes to turn an unconscious habit into a conscious one. We want a new habit, but first we have to be aware of the old one, have a desire to change, and the skills to do so. It’s very simple, but very powerful.

building habits

Assuming, of course, that you WANT a change for yourself, I recommend writing down some of the habits you have that aren’t working for you — become conscious of what it is that you’re doing.

Next, visualize not having that habit and/or replacing it with a habit that you want. Then, think of two actions that you can do to stop yourself from the original habit when you notice yourself doing it, and apply your ‘new’ habit.

Rinse and repeat. The change won’t happen overnight, just like your original habit didn’t. Don’t be discouraged, just keep at it.

While we’re on the subject, I also suggest re-reading Steven Covey’s book with your particular habits in mind. It will offer a new perspective on an old topic.

Happy summer reading!


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