If you asked anyone how they managed to eliminate one of
their old bad habits by replacing it with a good one, they might give
you some vague answer like, “I just decided that I really wanted to do
it,” or “I pushed myself.” While this may be true to them on the
surface, it doesn’t give people like us any hints about what kind of
mindset tricks they may have subconsciously used to do it.
Habit formation is an extremely personal endeavor, but there are some
more specific ways you can increase your chances of success. In fact,
some of the most effective tricks are pretty counterintuitive for most
people. Here are just five you should consider.
Focus on a trigger rather than the habit itself.
If you want to eliminate your bad habit of plopping down on the couch
after work to watch TV with a glass of wine in hand, you might say to
yourself, “I’m going to start exercising for 30 minutes after work.”
But focusing on the habitual change you want to make isn’t what’s going
to get you to take action.
Instead, you need to establish a trigger point that gets you to take
action. If you want to exercise after coming home from work, your
trigger could be the point where you walk through your front door. Or it
could be the point where you change out of your work clothes. So
instead of simply telling yourself you’ll exercise after work, you can
trigger yourself to take action by saying, ”As soon as I walk through my
front door, I’m on my way to exercising.”
Take one extremely tiny action toward positive change. People often seek to change their habits because they want some sort
of result. A focus on results means making changes substantial enough to
start seeing progress in a reasonable amount of time, which is often
uncomfortable to sustain day after day, week after week, and month after
month. In fact, many of us greatly overestimate what we’re able to keep
up with over the long run.
If you want to permanently replace a bad habit with a good one, aim
to take one small action a day that only takes a few seconds or maybe a
minute to complete. If it’s reading instead of watching TV, start with
reading just one page of your book. If it’s flossing instead of ignoring
your dental hygiene, start with just one tooth. You need to build
the foundation of your habit first with a very small,
impossible-to-not-do action first before trying to get real results.
Perceive difficult obstacles as valuable lessons.
Many of us have fixed mindsets, meaning we think we’re simply born
with an unwavering level of talent, intelligence and other desirable
traits needed for success. People with fixed mindsets see obstacles and
their own mistakes as things that verify how capable or incapable they
are of succeeding at something.
People with growth mindsets, on the other hand, see traits like
talent and intelligence as things that can be developed over time
through effort. If you have a fixed mindset, anything that gets in your
way of performing your habit is likely to make you want to say “screw
it” and quit. In contrast, people with growth mindsets recognize the
hard stuff as things that will help them become better and develop more
Tell yourself you’re already a huge success.
The difference in wording may be subtle, but saying, “I want to
successfully do [new habit],” is definitely not the same as saying, ”I
am successful at doing [new habit].” By telling yourself what you want
to do or what you want to become as if you’re already doing it or
embodying it, you can reprogram your mind for success.
Your mind doesn’t care what’s real or fake in the moment, so even if
you’re struggling to do a good job or feel confident in any new habit
you’re trying to develop, your mind will start to believe you’re already
a huge success if you just start talking to yourself as if you are.
What you’re really doing here is simply using the power of positive affirmations to change your habits and make them stick.
Don’t get caught up in fantasizing.
Telling yourself you’re already successful can work, but that’s not
always the case if it makes you get lost in fantasy land. One of the big
reasons why visualization exercises don’t work so well for people who
want to change is because they only visualize the positive outcome they
A UCLA study
found that people who visualized themselves being involved in the
process it takes to produce an outcome were more likely to stick with
their new habits. To change your habits from bad to good, make sure you
focus on the learning, the practicing, and the doing that will get you
the results you’re looking for.
Habits can be tricky things to form and sustain, but with the above
tips, you’ll be well ahead of everyone else struggling to simply force
themselves to just do it.