All of us develop bad habits of some kind or another during our lifetimes. Often, when we wish to change those habits, we find it difficult, even when the habit is something simple, like spending too much time surfing the Internet or going to bed too late. When little things like this start having negative effect on our lives, it seems like we should just be able to stop doing them by saying to ourselves, “That is not good for me. I will stop doing that.” Yet, this is not usually how it works. We might have the willpower to stop for a few days, and then we go right back to the same behavior.
So, how do we change our habits? This question is an important part of the fifth step of my Brain Education
method— Brain Mastering
. In this step, practitioners work toward perfection of themselves and their lives through continuous self-examination and self-refinement. Examining and changing negative habits is a big part of that. Based on this process, I've developed some tips to help you change your habits and reach for other goals in your life:
Harness the Power of Neuroplasticity
One thing is certain about the brain—it has the capacity to change. This ability of the brain is what allows us to learn new things and to adapt to new situations. It also allows our brains to recover from injuries and strokes. The neurons in our brains are constantly connecting to each other to form pathways that allow us to do all the things we do with our brains, from walking across a room to solving quadratic equations.
Habits develop because the brain has formed very definite pathways related to that habitual behavior. That is great for many things in life, like remembering to brush our teeth or putting our seatbelts on. But for less desirable behaviors, it means that behavior is also hardwired into the brain. So, even if we intend to break the habit, we return to it because it is the most comfortable behavior for the brain to process.
Replace a Negative Habit with a Positive Habit
If you only take away a negative habit, you will feel a sense of deprivation when you do not return to that behavior. Negative habits, even if they are having negative effects on your life, always provide something you enjoy, so your brain will keep urging you back toward that behavior. Since the behavior is “hardwired,” it is very easy to return to it for that sense of satisfaction. Thus, you need to provide your brain with an alternate source of enjoyment, preferably something that is both enjoyable and healthy.
Commit to 100 Days
If you want to change a habit, commit to making that change for 100 days. You may, in fact, want to change that behavior forever, but “forever” is far too vague for any real commitment. Also—and more importantly—new connections take time to solidify in the brain. If 100 days seems too long, you can start with 21 days
and repeat that commitment several times. Each time, that commitment will get easier and easier. Then, at the end of 100 days, you will have made real, tangible change in your brain.
Believe in Your Brain
Belief in your brain is a necessity for mastership. Your brain—and your habits—can change; that’s just a fact. The only question is whether you will commit to making that change happen. If you lose faith in your brain’s ability to change because you feel a strong urge to return to a negative habit, then you will very likely return to the behavior. So, when you do feel like giving up and giving in, tell yourself, “My brain can do this.” This is a positive message that will give you courage and tenacity to keep your promise to yourself.
Also, get rid of negative self-talk, especially when your feel tempted to break your commitment . . . or even if you do break it. Negative self-talk is a bad habit in its own right, one that undermines many dreams and contributes to low self-esteem. In fact, many bad habits, like overeating and substance abuse, are related to low self-esteem, so it only makes sense to send ourselves positive messages if we want to change ourselves.
Give Yourself Unshakable Confidence
The beauty of committing to changing a habit for 100 days is that it can give you unshakable confidence in yourself. I recommend starting with one habit, but later you can add more during each 100-day interval. A 100-day plan can be used for general goal setting
, too. For example, you could decide to take one step toward a certain goal every day for 100 days. Your goal might take longer to complete, but you will find you’ve established momentum in the direction of your goal. If a new you and a new life seem a long way off, just take it 100 days at a time. Eventually, you will find that your whole life has transformed for the better.