You are your Habits.

24, Jan, 2014, by Seema Bhatnagar

habit character quote from Plutarch

"Habits make a person", really, it has such a profound truth in it . On closely observing everybody around, you too would agree that each one of us is a bundle of habits. Habits are given by our parents, teachers, friends, peers and environment in which we live. Environment plays a very important role in giving us habits. Company of people with good and healthy habits bring positive influence while company of people with unhealthy habits have a negative and damaging effect. Our success and failure in life depends upon habits which we follow in life. A person with a habit of procrastination will face tribulations and will not be able to taste success so easily while a person who has a habit of working hard with dedication and commitment can taste success easily.

Some people are so addicted to their habits that they feel helpless and find themselves as victims. During my life coaching sessions, I get opportunity to meet people who are frustrated with their habits of bingeing, inability to lose weight, eating loads of sweets being diabetic, not able to study during exams or not able to get up early in the morning etc.. Similarly, smokers, coffee, tea and tobacco addicts are just to name few who are compelled by their habits. Interestingly, I have also met people who are addicted to makeup, pornography, compulsive user of cell phones, facebook and social networking sites.

Amazingly, on the other side, there are people who reached to successful positions only because of habits and there is altogether a different and enlightened class of people who realized God with the power of their habits. Really, this world is just so diverse, beautiful and awesome.

What are habits?

“Habit is the deepest law of human nature.” ~ Thomas Carlyle

Habit is a repeated pattern of action. Our mind registers the repeated action in our long term memory considering it as useful and makes it available without spending extra amount of energy. So, all our habits which we have today are because of repetitions.

It is absolutely essential to be conscious of personal habits to become a successful person and one must throw away habits which are not working and giving constant frustration and discomfort in life. You can simply transform your life from an average and mediocre to a person with excellence, simply by following positive and effective habits in your routine.

Habits are generally formed because of usefulness and pleasure. If we experience some amount of pleasure in doing some action, our mind considers it as welcoming and registers it quickly for next use. Comfort and sensory pleasure are the two basic factors which enable habits to be formed. Continuing same habits for long duration creates personal comfort zone. Every individual's comfort zone has his/her own set of habits.

Our mindsets, beliefs provide extra support to form habits. If smokers feel that smoking some cigarettes a day is not so harmful then our mind registers this fact and further provides support to this habit. Some people are emotionally attached to their habits and develop a victim mentality if asked to drop it. I came across a person who had high levels of diabetes and wanted to reduce intake of sweet but somewhere he had developed a thought that his life might be short and he might die soon, so he should continue eating sweet to enjoy life more.

People who are obese, find it too tough to break their habit of bingeing or eating fatty food because they feel, they are perfectly healthy and why should they drop this habit and also because of eating less they might fall sick.

Similarly, each one of us has a good explanations for personal habits, doesn't matter if they are proving healthy or unhealthy for us.

My personal experience.

“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” ~ Samuel Johnson

Not too long back, I too was a big bundle of annoying and unhealthy habits. Many of them I have already shared in many of earlier posts under "My Personal Experience" section, check out post on Anger, Self-Esteem and Self-Discipline. Over the period of time I have worked hard on personal mindsets and eating habits to get some results.

Correcting, altering or forming any habit is surely a difficult task and need strong will power, perseverance, persistence and above all a strong belief in self. Just thinking and dreaming or talking about forming new habit really doesn't yield any result, it must be put into action. Some people have a habit of appreciating good habits of others but will never bother to form one for self.

For a quick reference, I would like to quote my drinking habits. At one point in time, some four years back, I was a typical tea addict. My day would not start if I do not get a cup of tea, that too with my specifications, a strong one with minimum possible milk and color should be deep brown, not so black and without sugar. If I did not get my dose on time, I would not be able to concentrate on my work and would constantly think about how to arrange a cup of tea. I used to find myself almost disoriented in its absence. My daily intake was six cups, after every hour I wanted to enjoy a cup of tea. The good occasions were, solving a problem, thinking on a problem and working on a problem or on getting some good news, just needed an occasion to grab it. People used to give looks at the color of my tea and I used to enjoy having it anytime except at bedtime.

Sometimes it used to make me feel like a helpless addict looking for a daily dose. A day without it used to be a day of headache, crankiness, impulsive behavior and overall a very negative state without any external intervention or trigger. I would not enjoy anything, doesn't matter what it is, until I get my morning dose.

One day, when I was reading something on habits, a thought just happened to me about dropping my tea addiction. Here is my soliloquy when I was deciding to form a new habit or dropping an old one:

I: I want to drop my habit tea addiction.

Mind: It is alright to have this habit as it is not causing any health hazard and it keeps me fresh.

I: No, but it make me helpless sometimes and makes me completely disoriented on certain days, why should I continue it. Moreover, I want to develop a power of control in self, so I will not tolerate it anymore, I must change it.

Mind: Ok, but what would be the substitute because you know I can't live without it and I will protest if you don't provide.

I: Yes, sure, I know, we will go slow and initially I will provide you less number of cups and will slowly bring it to zero. The substitute would be an excellent, healthy and tasty herbal tea.

Mind: Ok, I am fine and let's start.

With this plan, I started with 3 cups of tea and substituted the other 3 with homemade herbal tea. Moring cup essential so continued for 3 days with this routine. My mind protested with headache and accompanied crankiness, on those times I provided myself one hour of sleep. On 4th day, my headache reduced and by 7the day I was just ok without a morning cup of tea. By the end of 10th day, I was completely off with this habit. The feeling was just WOW…..

Now, it has been more than 3 years, I am away from this habit and enjoy a cup of tea whenever I feel like or if somebody ask for a company. Interestingly, I don't find it tasty anymore. Probably, at that time also it was more addiction than taste and fear of withdrawal symptoms which kept me stuck to this habit.

I consider this as a personal victory, because it was my childhood habit and breaking it was a real challenge. Breaking this has given me immense confidence, power and belief in myself which helped me to form several other habits. Now, I do not find it difficult at all to form any habit even if it causes me a little pain.

Pavlos' experiment on dog.

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was a Russian scientist, he conducted an experiment on classical conditioning. Through his experiment, he demonstrated the association of stimulus with response, a conditioned response. In this experiment, before feeding dog he rang a bell. On repeating this habit again and again, dog used to salivate when the bell rang even when there wasn't any food. This shows, a conditioned response, which is salivation of dog and ringing of bell which is a stimulus, can be formed by repetition of an action and body can respond to it.

This is an excellent finding on how our body responds to stimulus, it is only that we should choose the right stimulus to get the right response. This could be a good knowledge for people who feel that they cannot form habits and face constant failures. What is important in habit forming is the association of stimulus and response.

How to develop habits?

“Habit is a form of exercise” ~ Elbert Hubbard

Developing new habits is definitely not easy but at the same time not impossible as well, what you need is a strong determination and belief in yourself. For sure, childhood is the best age to form new habits but not to lose heart, even at an old age habits can be formed - it is only that you need to push yourself harder because as the popular saying goes, "Old habits die hard.".

Doesn't matter at what age you are, you can surely give your best shot in attempting to form a new habit.Digging through Guinness World Records, you would feel amazed about how people have set incredible records only by inculcating habits.

Following are some tips which can prove helpful in overcoming new habit forming challenges:

  1. List challenges
  2. Choose a new habit which you want to develop and quickly jot down the challenges and resistance you feel about it. You might feel, earlier I failed and it is difficult, I might fall sick or how will I live without it etc.

  3. Previous Experience
  4. If you had any negative experience when you attempted the same habit last time, just recall and just note it down.

  5. Have a plan and Strategy
  6. Draw a simple plan about how you would go about forming new habits, which includes the total number of days for which you would follow the new routine so that it can become a habit. Also include how you would overcome the above listed challenges. This is a very important step because through this you are actually visualizing your new habit.

  7. Complete other tasks
  8. If you are really busy in something very urgent then postpone the execution because it needs your total commitment, engagement and mental poise. There shouldn't be any major distractions, minor ones are fine.

  9. Read and be informed
  10. Read as much as you can on how other people have struggled and emerged out of that habit. Search the best websites on internet and see what are the best ways and practices to overcome challenges on the way.

  11. Visualize
  12. Start visualizing how you would be with new habits in place, how your life will improve and how you would grow by having this habit. This will prepare you mentally and you would feel more engaged and motivated to embark on your new habit.

My general and common caveat, just remain away from people who can potentially drag you back to your old habit. Simply avoid their contact until you are completely established in your new habit.

Ideally, any new habit to be formed needs at least 23 days that too without a gap. Mind it, it is important that you perform actions of new habits at the same time everyday. This prepares your body to become more receptive. If you bring a gap, your mind will register the fact that it is not important to continue this pattern and you would lose the momentum built earlier. Our mind is an amazing thinking instrument which can be used to control our actions and thoughts. On rounds of repetitions and affirmations about forming new habit, a day will come when you don't have to remind yourself about repetitions, your body and mind comes on an autopilot state and perform action without much awareness.

The trap of habit

Our thoughts and mindsets are most important when it comes to dealing with habits. Our mind continuously generate thoughts of what is good and what is bad for self, if negative thoughts take a grip on you and convince you that old habit is better than the new one you will immediately fall to old habit. Secondly, your mind would also generate thoughts that following some part of old habit will not cause any harm in the new habit and this will further drag you down in forming new habit.

Not just convincing yourself about the value of new habit but a strong belief is the only way to get successfully established in it. Before you even think of any action for new habit, develop a strong belief that my life is incomplete unless I achieve it. Until this belief starts flowing in your mind every moment, you cannot achieve success in habit forming.

"Seven habit of highly effective people" by Stephen R. Covey, is one of the best sellers on forming best habits to become successful in life. It highlights the importance of practicing some of the best habits to be more effective and successful. It has an important insight about the phrase, "paradigm shift" which is to understand the different mindsets and perspectives that exists about a particular situation.

Yoga - a great help.

Indian ancient yogis knew the importance of habits since ages and have given us a treasure of knowledge of Yoga. Yoga is a great help to for those who want to form new habits. For body, Asanas which comes under the Hata Yoga branch of Yoga, can be practiced to form habit for muscles to stretch beyond comfort zones for bringing flexibility in body. On thought level, meditation is a way to counteract thoughts to have few and selective ones.

Yama and Niyams are the two important parts of Ashtang Yoga highlighting the importance of forming habits for personal conduct. Check out self-discipline part III.

People who practice Yoga daily, know how a body and mind can be controlled with repeated practice.

Habits and Success

“If you create an act, you create a habit. If you create a habit, you create a character. If you create a character, you create a destiny.” ~ Andre Maurois

Since you are your habits, so your success also depends on habits which you are following today. Habits of how you think and how you act impacts your work and relationships on day to day basis. People who are ignorant and unconscious of some of their unhealthy habits like anger, jealousy, bingeing etc. suffer immense pain in terms of guilt and piercing regrets.

It is absolutely essential to be conscious of personal habits to become a successful person and one must throw away habits which are not working and giving constant frustration and discomfort in life. The ugly and negative personal habits can severely damage significant relationships in life. If not controlled and replaced with new ones timely, you might lose an opportunity to enjoy some of the most beautiful relationships in life. You can simply transform your life from an average and mediocre to a person with excellence, simply by following positive and effective habits in your routine. Doesn't matter in which area of life you are struggling to emerge, a change in habits can simply give you a paradigm shift. You must live a powerful life by developing the best of habits to reach the best of your potential.

Related Posts
10 Life Transforming Habits.


                
Seema Bhatnagar
, Blogger, Writer, Life Coach and Founder of Abundance Thinkers, site for personal growth and development. Empowering people in achieving and living the best of personal potential.

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