Someone said to me the other day that habits are like tying your shoe laces, it always takes 2 hands to do them up, but only one hand to undo them.
This stands true when you are building new, positive habits. It takes twice as much work to maintain a new habit as it would to slide back into the old comfortable routine. This is all because your mind works much like water, given the option it will take the path of least resistance.
Bad habits, however, seem to be double or triple knotted, and take a lot of effort to undo!
Think of each habit as a path way, old ingrained habits that you use all the time are wide and clear of obstacles, you’ve worn a nice smooth path from regular use. When you’re trying to build a new habit you have to clear a pathway through the forest. The route is over grown, there are fallen trees to get over and you don’t know where you are going so it’s hard work. Next time you take that path it will be a little easier, and easier still the time after that.
The temptation is still to take the old easy path, even if it doesn’t get us where we want to go anymore, but if you manage to leave that path un-walked for a while, it’ll begin to grow over and not be as tempting.
But why do we allow ourselves to create these bad habits to begin with? Surely its madness?
What you need to remember is that every action has a positive intention, the first time you did the behaviour you now see as a bad habit, you got some reward from it; probably it felt good, or stopped you being bored, or made you look cool to your mates. If it hadn’t had a positive impact in some way you wouldn’t have repeated the behaviour. Now you’ve done it so many times it’s just easier to follow that path.
Rather than focusing your energy on not following that path, it’s easier to focus your energy on building a new path instead. Here’s the difficult part. You are going to have to force yourself to do it. Good habits do not come easily. Do you remember how much your parents had to nag you to brush your teeth when you were younger? They had to remind you twice a day every day, but my guess is you do it now without even thinking about it.
Now you’re an adult, you have to parent yourself. That means nagging yourself and not letting yourself off the hook until the new habit is ingrained. On average it takes 66 repetitions to build a new habit.
Luckily your brain doesn’t really know what is real and what you’re imagining, so you can cheat a little bit by picturing yourself doing this new habit as often as possible, each time you imagine it you are making the path a little easier. You just need to make sure that when the opportunity for real life practice presents itself you take the path less travelled.