Quitting smoking. Keeping a gratitude journal. Developing a mindfulness practice. Whether we want to break habits, or create new ones, the process can be complicated. Most of us have made resolutions to break or create habits, only to relapse in our existing behaviours.
So, how do we change this cycle? How do habits work? And what are the elements needed to break and create habits?
Popular believe has it that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. However, a study from University College London has shown that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days, depending on the complexity of the habit.
The key word to understanding habits is “automaticity”: acting without thinking. To make or break a habit using automaticity, we need “if-then” plans: “if x happens, then I’ll do y”.
Learn how to create habits... and break destructive ones
The habit loop consists of:
Studies have shown that certain habits, like making your bed, exercising, or keeping a journal, can keystone other habits. Recognize a keystone habit that works for you, and use it to develop other habits.
Track and monitor your habits to see if you're sticking to them – or not!
To avoid falling back into our bad habits, or not succeeding in creating new ones, it's essential to recognise and counteract loopholes, like false choice loopholes, tomorrow loopholes, this-doesn’t count loopholes, fake self-actualisation loopholes, or one-time loopholes. Recognise these kinds of loopholes and counter them with if-then plans to strengthen your automaticity. Ultimately, breaking or creating habits help us in living the life we want to live.
As author Gretchen Rubin put it, habits are “the invisible architecture of every life and a significant element of happiness.”
Whether it's gratitude, mindfulness, connection, forgiveness, compassion, or any other happiness practice you seek to work on, the key is to form and sustain good habits. So, why not start with one today? ●
Arlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.
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