23 Nov, 2019 ยท 7 min read

Habits - The Greatest Force for Self-Improvement

A significant portion of our awaken life we are on the autopilot. We make decisions but mainly on the problems that are new. Once the decision or action is good enough we stick to it. Later we have intentions but they are too weak against the power of habits.

Challenge Achieved Platform

Habits create Autopilot

Have you ever caught yourself opening the fridge and not realizing why you did this? And now you are just standing there with the doors open and wondering what I'm doing here. Actually, you even stood up from the sofa and walked a few meters to open the fridge just to stare at it. Sounds familiar?

Have you ever got into the car, drove for a few blocks and then you started to think about something. Maybe it's about something that happened yesterday or something that you will need to do tomorrow. After a while, your mind drifted to another scene and other thoughts. Suddenly you see your destination point - workplace or home. Now you realize that you drove for at least 10 minutes completely unaware of the road. You made few turns, overtook multiple cars, bypassed fifty different road signs and drove through 5 street lights. Did all of the street lights were green? Did I break the law? Would I be fast enough to react and stop the car in case of some guy suddenly jumps to the street in this state of mind?

You probably didn't break the law. And yes you would probably react instantly to some unexpected situation. That state of mind is called habitual state and it's very normal. You can even call it a brain feature. In fact, it's so normal that without this feature your life will be unbearably hard. Let's understand what's going on.

Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character.

-Stephen Covey

When you started to learn to drive there were many things you need to take into an account. How sensitive is the wheel? Which pedal in which sequence and how hard you need to press? When and how to use blink lights? Constantly check the mirrors and change the gear at the same time. At first, it's impossible to get it right. The car is jerking around. However, after a few months, your driving becomes smooth and you no longer need to think that much about the gadgets inside. You can pay more attention to the outside world and situations. A few years later you drive a few blocks without noticing that you are even driving!

Habit Creation

This is a power of habit - making complex actions or sequences effortless after repeating them for hundreds or thousands of times. At first, your brain is like a forest which is hard to go through. The car is jerking and you are very stressed. Every time you are doing the same action you are making a path through the forest. After a while it becomes footpath, then a road and then a highway. It's very fast and easy to go through a highway compared with a forest. Your brain makes neural connections, optimizes and strengthens them during the repeat process. You no longer need to think consciously about it. The neural path is already in place and it happens subconsciously.

Depending on what they are, our habits will either make us or break us. We become what we repeatedly do.

-Sean Covey

During habit creation, we are moving from conscious, slow and effortful thinking to subconscious, fast and effortless thinking. Without this feature, you would still need to think about how to walk. Which leg you need to put where and at which angle. When brushing your teeth you would need to think "brush left, brush right, now brush the teeth on the top". You don't believe me? Just watch at small children: how they start to walk, how they start to brush the teeth for the first time. Or try to brush your teeth with your other arm - you might get a glimpse of what it is. Or even check astronauts that come back to earth after zero gravity and starts to walk again. Walking on two legs is actually hard and it takes effort to learn it. You don't see a lot of animals doing this.

Now you are thinking what does it have to do with habits like smoking, snacking late at night, nail-biting, going for a run every day, eating healthy and reading before the sleep. It's the same system, same patterns. Just at this point, you need effort for some of them like you did for walking or driving at the beginning. There are millions of people that do not snack at night and do not bite nails without even thinking, and they were doing that before. And now you can think that they are not me. Right? Correct. They are not you because they have different habits and you could have too.

Once you learn a new habit you no longer need spending your brain power on thinking how to do it. Now you can think about other things and subconsciousness is taking over the wheel of piloting the learned habit. It has a tremendous survival advantage. Humans can execute very complex behavior effortlessly, by adding one habit on top on another.

So how do I acquire a new habit? It's simple. Repeat, repeat and more repeat. The longer you repeat some action the deeper it resides in your brain. The more frequently you repeat the faster you create a new habit. Some habits will take 21 days, some easier habits will take less and some harder habits might take you a few months of conscious work.

Eating Habits

Each Action is a Vote for a Habit

Each time you make an action you are making a vote on what kind of person you will be. Let's say in the evening you felt a bit hungry. So now you have an option to eat some chips or eat some berries. If you eat chips then you are making a vote for "chip eater for a snack" and on the other case "eating berries for a snack". Eating chips might give you more instant pleasure, but the second option is more healthy and contributes to your long term wellness. You choose to eat chips - you want to be satisfied now. You repeat this decision and you are voting again for chips. After a hundred times you no longer actively do a decision it's habitual. Now the decision to eat chips is made no longer by you. It's made by your subconsciousness. You are hungry - you go for chips.

Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.

-Gandhi

You continue doing this for several years and it's a part of your personality. You say "I was doing it for my whole life. This is what I am. I'm chips person and I don't like berries". Then you notice that your belly has grown and you always feel low on energy, chips no longer satisfy you as before and they are just a part of your diet. While reading this article, You could think OK, I'm now hungry and I'm going to my fridge and I don't see berries there. What can I do? I have only chips now so I eat them. It's that simple. Well, then the decision had to be done a few hours earlier when you were shopping. Instead of putting chips inside the cart you should put berries there. But that was also habitual and you were not actively doing the decision between chips and berries. You were just thinking I am always eating chips and you just put them without any hesitation. So now you know that if you want to change your unhealthy snacking to healthy, you need to make a habit of checking your cart before going to check out. Do I put more healthy food in a cart or more unhealthy?

Let's take another example. Imagine it's one hour before going to sleep for you. You have two options: watch TV or read a book for that one hour. If you go with TV you are voting for TV habit. If you decide to read a book you are voting for a book reader before the sleep. The TV may entertain you better for a while, but eventually, you reach a point that it's just what you do before sleep. Although there might be nothing interesting today on TV, you will still watch it. You did this your whole life. You no longer do the decision - this is how you are.

TV vs Books

Your subconsciousness repeating what you voted for a long time. You don't need to decide. After a few years you think "hmm, I would like to be more intelligent, I would like to have something more to tell during the parties. But I have no time for reading." If you spend one hour per day reading, you would finish one average book in a week. Did you know that many highly successful people read one book per week, e.g. Bill Gates? You think that your daily routine is full and you can't fit reading in your tight schedule. But actually, you have way more time than you imagine. You just need to make a different decision than a day before.

If you want a new outcome, you will have to break the habit of being yourself, and reinvent a new self.

-Joe Dispenza

Compound Effect

These two examples might look not so significant, but if you multiply it by a few years both your health and intelligence will be affected significantly. It is called a compound effect. If you improve something every day for 1% after a year you will have improved by 37 times. So let's say you spend 1 hour per day reading quality books about health. If that hour increases 1% of your knowledge about health, after one year you will know 37 times more than before. Of course, it works the other way around. You could end up 37 times worse after a year. This is a power of small increments over time leading to outstanding changes. That's why habits are so powerful. If you want to have great health and long life - create healthy habits. If you want to be rich - create wealth generating habits. If you want to be wise - create habits that will stick each day making you smarter.

It's never too late to start working on yourself. Challenge Achieved platform is handy for creating new habits. Decide what you want to work on and create a challenge. For most habits daily challenge will be most suitable since you will need to repeat some action for around a month. Number challenge also works great when you want to repeat something for X amount of times. Here are some valuable habit forming challenges that will get you on the right path. Just click on the link and accept the challenge:

If you don't see any habits or challenges suitable to you - create your own new challenge. What habit would you like to acquire?

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