Notes to Self

Thoughts on psychology, spirituality and soft skill development for personal improvement


Changing Habits

"A habit can be considered as an intersection of knowledge, skill and desire. Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why. Skill is the how to do. And desire is the motivation, the want to do. In order to make something a habit, we have to have all three. - from "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People"

But how do we really go about changing a habit? The key out of the three - knowledge, skill and desire - is desire or motivation. Things to keep in mind:

  1. Action feeds motivation: Motivation is not a 'feeling' that comes out of the blue. Action is the fuel that feeds motivation. You need to start doing something to get motivated.

  2. The "21 day" theory: There is no scientific study to support the popular theory that if you do something regularly for '21 days' it'll become a habit. Yes, the more you do something regularly the more it is likely to become a habit. However, a lot of factors will influence its strength and the time it takes to become a habit.

  3. Basic Instincts: "Human beings will do anything to avoid pain, and move towards pleasure." This basic instinct governs all your behavior. To change any habit, first figure out its base - does it give you any pleasure, or does it help you avoid some pain? Here, pain / pleasure means physical and / or emotional. Eg. We avoid getting close to a fire to prevent getting burnt (physical pain). A person might have a fear of height because he / she saw someone close fall of and die (emotional pain). Similarly, physical / emotional pleasures also influence our behavior.

  4. Reinforcement: Based on the basic instinct, decide how you can create 'pain' for the old habit you want to change so that you avoid it. Figure out how you can feel and enjoy pleasure whenever you indulge in the new habit. (Asking for help and getting support from others provides a strong positive reinforcement.)

  5. Surrounding environment: Sometimes a change of environment is essential to change a habit. Eg: To quit smoking you might have to part ways with your friends who smoke (at least in the early stages).

  6. You will fail: Don't think in absolutes. Occasionally you might slip up and indulge in your old habit. That doesn't imply you have failed. It just means you are human too. Don't be harsh and berate yourself. Just accept it as human nature, and figure out why you chose to revive the old habit.

  7. Momentum: The first few days / weeks is the toughest. Once you cross the initial tough days, it only gets easier over time.

Remember, action feeds motivation. So get started now.