How To Form New Habits

Today’s TQ talks about habits. What are habits? Off the top of my head, I would say that a habit is a conditioned action. The action is conditioned because it is repeated over time until it becomes automatic, or at least requires little conscious thought. There are bad habits and there are good habits, and I’m sure that some habits are neither. A bad habit could be smoking. A good habit could be going for a run every morning.

Habits, whether good or bad, have one thing in common: they are formed over time. I smoked for eight years. I didn’t just pick up a cigarette, take a drag, and decide that was how I wanted to spend the next eight years. Likewise, I didn’t just put my smokes down and walk away. Developing the habit took time, and breaking the habit took a lot more time and effort; more than I ever could have imagined. Sometimes I wonder how I did develop the habit of smoking. When I was in my "A" school, or first technical school in the Navy, I would watch the smokers run outside during every break. It didn’t matter if the weather was nice, raining, snowing, too hot, whatever, they went out to smoke. One day I told one of the smokers that I wanted to try a cigarette because I had to know what was so great about those things that made them want to stand outside in a blizzard to get one. To be honest, it was horrible. I told them I could have licked tar off the road and had a better taste. However, somehow or other, within the next 2 years I developed the habit and became a regular smoker. How I finally broke the habit could be a series of blog entries. That was one of the most difficult challenges in my life, and one I do not fault others for not wanting to face.

Hyrum Smith, in his book The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management, makes the statement that "Successful people are willing to do that which unsuccessful people are not willing to do". On the surface, that sounds much like the bumper-sticker philosophy that seems to permeate our culture, but the statement is really profound. In order to break my smoking habit, I had to take steps that I was not willing to do for many years; steps that those are are not willing to quit smoking are not willing to take. I’m working on a post for this blog about success by hope of winning the lottery, which keeps getting longer and may eventually become an entire series.

In order to make or break a habit, you must be willing. If you’re not willing, then the good habit will not be formed and the bad habit will not be broken. I have been trying for years to form a habit of daily planning, yet so far I have not been willing to stick with this long enough to become a habit. I have not yet settled into a habit of weekly planning recommended by David Allen and other GTD practitioners. I’m sure that my success is suffering accordingly. I have not gotten into a habit of regular daily exercise, and my physique is suffering badly.

To form any new habit, you must dedicate a period of time from twenty one to thirty days. One day is never enough. I could plan today, get nowhere, give up, and truly get nowhere. If I were to dedicate the entire 21 day Franklin Planner challenge laid out by Hyrum Smith, I would probably begin to meet with success.

Most habits don’t really need that much time. I am getting into the habit of reading fifteen minutes  a day from a book or magazine. I have plenty of both piling up on me. Fifteen minutes is not much, but allows me to make steady progress through my books and magazines. This time allows me to sharpen my mind.

Give a try to a thirty day habit. You may have to break an old habit to make time for a new one. If, after thirty days, you aren’t happy with your new habit, you can always go back.

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