What are you? Are you successful or immersed in problems? Are you courageous or timid? Happy or miserable? Ambitious or lazy? WHAT YOU ARE TODAY IS GOVERNED BY YOUR HABITS. For as Aristotle (384 ~ 322 BC) taught, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Some would say, “Oh, I can’t help myself; it is my nature to be this way. I am naturally lazy.” Wrong! It is not our nature to be lazy, but our nature to act out of habit. Our habits then create our nature. In other words, the actions we repeatedly do become habits, which then form our character, which, in turn, shapes our future. John Dryden (1631 ~ 1700) expressed it this way, “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.”
As you can see, much is at stake. Our success or failure, happiness or misery, all depend on our habits. As Nathaniel Emmons (1745 ~ 1840) wrote, “Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters.” That being so, why aren’t more of us uprooting our bad habits and replacing them with good ones? Well, it’s not that people don’t try, but that they don’t understand how to go about it properly. It is not willpower that is needed to change our habits, but understanding. We need to understand some basic principles, which when followed, will lead to success. So, if you want to renovate yourself, let your greatness shine through, and become the person you were meant to be, you could start today by carrying out the seven steps listed below.
1. List the reasons why you want to stop a bad habit or start a good one. For example, why do you want to stop smoking, stop procrastinating, or start working out? Write as many reasons as you can think of. This step helps eliminate the first mistake that is often made, which is to focus on what we don’t want rather than what we do want.
2. Step 2 is an essential step that is seldom carried out by those who want to change. List all the reasons why you continue in the bad habit. For example, if you smoke, why do you do so? Reasons may include: it ‘relaxes’ me, makes me feel like one of the group, gives me something to do with my fingers, makes me feel more confident, makes me look attractive, and so forth.
3. Find the needs that your habit is trying to fulfill. The purpose of Step 2 was to help you discover these hidden needs. This step is almost never followed by those wanting to change and is an important step. So, in the example of the smoker, the needs may be to feel confident, be at ease, be accepted, and look attractive.
4. Do an analysis. Ask yourself how effectively your bad habit is fulfilling your needs. An analysis of our behaviour will reveal that our bad habits are counterproductive. Instead of helping us, they prevent us from satisfying our needs. Again, using the smoker as an example, rather than making him look macho, cigarettes make him look like a weakling in need of oral gratification. And how can he feel confident when he depends on cigarettes to mask his insecurity?
5. List what you can do to fulfill your needs in a positive manner. For example, our smoker friend may decide he can gain the confidence he is looking for by working out, taking adult education classes, or learning how to dance. All these activities can bring about genuine confidence, which gradually ends his need for phony symbols, such as cigarettes.
6. Just as professional athletes are trained to visualize their success before they act, take several brief ‘visualization breaks’ throughout the day. That is, pause and mentally see yourself carrying out the actions you decided on in Step 5. So, if you decided to replace the bad habit of smoking with the good habit of working out, use your imagination to see yourself growing slimmer and fit. Feel the confidence well up in you as you grow more and more attractive. Relish in the pleasure of knowing you are replacing a habit that destroys health with one that builds it.
7. Begin to take the action you are visualizing. If you decided to go to the gym, start going. Work out regularly. As you do so, a new habit is formed, and soon you will take pleasure in your workouts and wonder how you ever got along without them.
Now, as a review, let’s take a look at another example. Tom is addicted to TV and decides to change. Here are his seven steps.
1. Why cut back on TV viewing? a) Because it will free up time that can be spent doing something worthwhile. Regaining time is like extending one’s life span. b) The sedentary lifestyle is unhealthful. c) Passivity dulls the mind. d) Turning on the TV turns off others; tuning in to a TV channel is tuning out of the lives of family members and friends.
2. Why does he do it? a) Avoidance. It is an escape. He is trying to forget his problems. b) Pleasure. He uses the pleasure to numb the pain he feels, which is caused by the problems he isn’t doing anything about.
3. What are his needs? To stop worrying and experience pleasure.
4. How effective is his bad habit in dealing with his problems? Horrible! By avoiding his problems instead of facing them, they just grow bigger. And this fact is always lurking in his mind, thereby preventing him from experiencing any depth to the pleasure temporarily offered by TV.
5. What are some positive alternative forms of behaviour? a) He can use the time to talk about his problems with his mate, family, or friends. As he does so, not only will solutions appear, but also relationships will grow stronger. b) He can spend the time by taking an evening walk with his wife.
This improves their relationship and their health. c) He can use the time for reading, joining an interesting group, volunteering, or engaging in a captivating hobby, all of which will replace the short-lived pleasure of TV with the enduring happiness that accompanies an active life.
6. Throughout the day, Tom visualizes the pleasure and happiness his new lifestyle will bring.
7. He immediately takes steps to change his behaviour. The actions he takes bring favorable results, which motivate him to take further action. His repeated actions replace his old, bad habit with several new, good ones. By mastering his habits, he is mastering his destiny.
The simple steps I have outlined above, when followed conscientiously, will reap priceless rewards. Don’t wait any longer. Discover the freedom that good habits bring. Freedom isn’t the absence of activity and responsibility, but the reward of both. Our good habits empower us, and it is only when we live a life of power that we can be truly free.