How to Change Your Habits

by Sir John Hargrave
Guest post for "Apple Seeds"

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"Your thoughts become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your destiny."
Mahatma Gandhi


It is not easy to throw expensive liquor into a dumpster.

Nine years ago, my drinking had reached bottom. I was determined to get sober, and I knew I had to get rid of all the alcohol in my house. Now I was behind my local supermarket, tossing bottle after bottle of liquor into a dumpster.

It was probably the most difficult thing Ive ever done, because my mind was screaming at me to stop. Think of all the good times weve had with this alcohol! it told me. The parties! The friendships! The drunken trips to the zoo!

Somehow, I threw it all away. But staying sober, I found out over the next few weeks, was even more difficult. It required changing dozens of habits: not just the drinking habit, but the thought habits that led to the drinking.

The great psychologist William James once said, "All our life is but a mass of habits." If youve ever tried to get rid of a bad habit (drinking, eating junk food) or start a new one (exercise, meditation), you know how difficult it can be. Our brains are hardwired for habits.

In his excellent book The Power of Habit, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg shares the latest research on how we form new habits (and escape old ones). Our habits are typically preceded by a "cue," and reinforced with a "reward."

The Habit Loop

The "cue" for my drinking was a mental voice that said, Lets drink! The "reward" was the feeling that followed. What I learned was that you can form new habits by using this same structure.

For example, if you want to exercise more frequently, put on your workout clothes as soon as you get out of bed this morning. Wearing the clothes will act as a cue a reminder that you need to hit the gym.

Similarly, consistently give yourself a reward every time you complete the habit: a post-workout smoothie, for example. Withhold the reward on the days you dont complete the habit, as if you were training a dog.

What I found was that each positive habit gave me a little bit of "energy" that I could invest in even better habits. For example, when I wasnt hung over, I could exercise in the morning. This gave me more physical energy, so I could do a better job at work.

Eventually, this led to improvements in my work habits: reducing procrastination, focusing on the big projects first. With each new habit in place, my self-esteem boosted a bit more, which gave me even more positive mental energy.

As my physical and mental habits improved, so did my spiritual habits. I began meditating regularly, and leading meditation groups. Soon I was being asked to speak and to preach. I wrote a book, recently published by Simon & Schuster, which is helping readers around the world.

"The journey of a thousand miles," said Lao Tzu, "begins with a single step." My first step was throwing French wine into a dumpster. Your first step in changing your habits may also be difficult, but Im confident you can take it.

Take the step.

 

Sir John Hargrave,
author of Mind Hacking: How to Change Your Mind for Good in 21 Days,
now available on Amazon.com.

 

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