habits

Have you ever had an “aha moment” over something that in hindsight seems so simple and obvious? Come on now. I know I can’t be the only one!

Last year I started stumbling upon articles and videos on the topic of habit. The message I kept hearing was, “changing your daily habits changes your life and destiny.” I was inspired to learn more about habits – how they’re formed, how they work and how they can be changed. What I found was both fascinating and encouraging. It was also one of my biggest “Duh!/Aha” moments.

Here are 9 points about habits. To make things easier to remember, I created an acronym: O.U.R. H.A.B.I.T.S.

Ongoing. Habits are ongoing patterns of behavior, acquired through repetition. One of the reasons that habits are ridiculously hard to break is that when a habit is formed, that pattern is literally etched into our brain, establishing a neural pathway.

Underestimated. For many people, the word “habit” brings to mind negative patterns such as smoking, drinking or biting one’s nails. Others think of habits as the mindless things we do everyday.

Habits are often negative or mundane, but there’s more to it than that. As I researched the topic of habits, I learned that there is something very special and powerful about habits that can be leveraged to completely transform our lives.

Instead of thinking of habits in a negative or neutral way, I started thinking of habits as a hidden key or secret weapon, that when used in the right way, empowers us to achieve our highest goals. More on this a little later.

Reprogrammable. Many of us always thought of habits as practically impossible to break or change. Well, we were wrong. You can actually re-program your brain and turn a bad habit into a good one.

Transforming our habits does take time, but the cool thing is, it doesn’t have to take a long time. When you learn how habits work and how to change them, you will begin to see big changes in your life, relatively quickly!

 

habitsHelpful or harmful. Think about it. Just about every decision we make is either worthwhile or a waste of time, helpful or harmful.

Our life is basically the sum total of all our habits, past and present. All the small decisions we make every day add up, and when those decisions become habits, those habits either move us toward our highest potential or hold us back.

The world’s most successful people understand the force of habit. Those people might not be Christians, but this is not just a secular idea, it’s rooted in biblical truth.

The idea that our daily decisions impact our life and destiny is essentially the biblical principle of sowing and reaping. I think that Stephen Covey sums it up perfectly in the quote to your right, from his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Automatic. One of the most interesting things about habit is how it allows the brain to work on auto-pilot. God knew what He was doing when He designed the human mind. Once an action becomes a habit, you don’t have to think about it anymore, which frees up your mental energy to focus on more difficult or meaningful matters.

habit-loopBehavior. According to behavioral researchers, habits follow a simple 3 step pattern or “loop.”

  1. The action starts with a reminder or cue.
  2. The next step is the routine, or the action itself
  3. The final step is the reward. This is the benefit – perceived or real – that the behavior brings.

Instrumental. If you don’t take anything else from this post, just remember this. Our daily habits can be instrumental – in other words, we can use them to our advantage, if we learn to harness the power of habit.

We already learned that we can transform our habits or create new, beneficial habits, and that once a habit is formed, it becomes second-nature. So why not utilize that gift, by being strategic about the habits you form, and letting those habits move you toward your goals and dreams? Those habits will work for you, on auto-pilot, which allows you to concentrate on becoming the person God created you to be, and fulfilling your true calling.

To. Habits can take us to a particular place in our life, figuratively speaking. Habits can take us in all sorts of directions, to health and wealth, sickness and poverty, an amazing and adventurous life, or a life of mediocrity.

And that leads us to the last point, the “S” of Our Habits.

Success There are many important success principles, and it’s essential to have a clearly defined goal or vision. However, all those other things won’t take a person to where they want to be if they never develop the right habits or utilize the power of habit.

In the words of John Maxwell:

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”

It’s the small daily decisions, which turn into good habits, that lead to success.

Some people might be thinking, “That sounds like bad news. I’ll never get to my goal, if it requires millions of small daily decisions.”

The good news is, some of us have been looking at this the wrong way, for years. I too had that “I can’t do this” mindset. I didn’t think I had the self-discipline for all those daily decisions required to do something new and challenging. I’ve realized that once you learn how habits work and how to use the power of habit, you no longer think of it as monumental ordeal, like pushing a boulder up a mountain.

The part that many people overlook is that once a habit is formed, our brain is basically on auto-pilot. Those things that we once thought of as nearly impossible become part of our daily routine, as automatic as putting your shoes on in the morning.

Of course, it takes a certain amount of time before a new habit is formed. So, the difficult part is the beginning. But once you understand how habits work and how the force of habit can be used to your advantage, you have the motivation and energy to get through that difficult first stage. When we get past that, those good habits become like a propeller, that when aligned with your clearly defined vision, will take you to where you want to go! So that difficult phase is worth enduring, because it pays off.

As John Maxwell puts it, we can “play now and pay later, or pay now and play later. Regardless of the choice, one thing is certain. Life will demand a payment.”

To sum this up, here’s the acronym written as a sentence. Our habits are:

Ongoing, underestimated, reprogrammable, helpful or harmful, automatic behavior instrumental to success.

power-of-habit For those interested in learning more, I’m currently reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. You’ve probably heard about it, it spent over 60 weeks on the New York Times and other best-seller lists.

I’m not finished with it yet, but based on what I’ve read so far, definitely get this book. You can do so by clicking on the image to your right.

You’ll learn about how habits work, what drives habits and how they can be changed. Duhigg shares a number of fascinating true stories on how leveraging the power of habit completely transforms lives – not only of individuals, but of teams and big companies as well.

One of the best parts of the book so far is the chapter on keystone habits. Keystone habits are habits that hold more weight, because once developed, they influence numerous other habits, causing a domino effect.

A good example of a keystone habit would be regular exercise. Exercise gives you more energy, which causes you to be more productive, and exercise improves your mental and emotional health, which affects numerous other aspects of your life.

So it’s important to identify your keystone habit. I think that my keystone habit is my daily quiet time with God. Spending that time each morning changed everything. It led to my determination to continually learn and gain wisdom, to develop self-discipline and improve my character. It led to my huge mindset shift on health, which led to new eating habits and regular exercise, something I never did before.

I don’t think it was an accident that I kept “stumbling upon” the message of the transformative power of habit. I think that God orchestrated the whole thing. God has been giving me the grace to go through these changes, and the challenges of developing new habits. So to God be the glory!

How about you? Do you want to use the power of habit to propel yourself to your goals and dreams? If you weren’t already doing this, do you want to be strategic about forming new habits?

Please share which habits, if any, you want to change or start. We can pray for each other. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

photo credit : Kathryn Denman via Flickr cc