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9 Science-Backed Ways to Create Positive Long-Term Habits

Habits form the foundation of our behaviour. As the author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business Charles Duhigg details in his book, habits are our brains’ way of simplifying tasks so we’re not overloaded, so we don’t need to consciously remember how and why we brush our teeth in the morning. By this definition, so much of what we do comes down to habit.

So we know habits have the power to completely transform essentially every aspect of our lives, but as easily as we create positive habits, we’re just as susceptible to form negative ones. The more ingrained the habit becomes as time goes on, the more difficult it is to reform them, but the good news is that creating and reforming habits are rooted in how our brains work.

Keep reading for 9 science-backed ways you can form positive habits to pave way for success in personal and professional life.


SIMPLIFY YOUR LIFE

The first step to taking control of your life and begin to build positive habits is simply to cut out the noise. We do a lot of things everyday without fully understanding why we do it, which can impede on our ability to focus on what we want to accomplish.

For example, you may meet up with the same colleagues every week for happy hour even though you don’t feel the need to drink so regularly. Feeling pressured to keep up with these habits even though they may not reflect your needs or wants should be the first thing you need to eliminate from your life. Fill your day with positive routines to decrease the number of decisions you need to make, leaving less room for error for negative habits.

VISUALISE

If may sound clichéd to imagine your best self, but science points to the benefits of visualisation in helping you to perform the habit. Not only does it help with planning the steps needed to reach that goal, it also manages your emotional expectations during the process. But as shown in a study by UCLA, it’s important not to fantasise when doing so. For example, if you want to get in shape, don’t visualise yourself already fit; rather, visualise hitting the gym regularly and putting the legwork in.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

While it might be tempting to just take the plunge when it comes to overhauling your life, the reality is that our willpower and motivation is limited, and vacillates at any given time. This means that it’s more ideal to wait for when you’re in a good place in your life before changing a habit, especially if you’ve had for a long time.

When you’re less stressed about other things, you’re more able to focus on the task of reversing destructive behaviour. It’s not enough to act in positive ways for your personal growth, but to think positively as well. When you see yourself saying something like “I’m so bad at remembering not to bite my nails…” interject with a solution before you let the idea set, such as “…but I can set a reminder on my phone.”

ONE AT A TIME

Even if you're in a good place in your life, and have the motivation to fully dedicate yourself, it’s good to me reminded not to take too many things on at once. Don’t overload yourself with too many changes and challenges; rather, focus on one important habit and move on to the next when you’re comfortable.

For example, if you’re trying to quit smoking, don’t try to start eating healthy at the same time because the chances of success for both will be significantly diminished. Also, you should always replace the habit you’ve given up with a new positive habit, so you don’t feel the need to go back to the previous one. So instead of just cutting out smoking, try replacing it with another habit, like munching on some celery sticks during breaks when if you would've been smoking.

PIGGYBACKING

Piggybacking is the practice of grouping one habit with another that you already have, so it’s easier to be reminded of performing the new habit. For example, if you want to be more regular about taking vitamins, make sure to place it somewhere you’re sure to see every single morning, so you don’t have to go out of your way to remember to do it. One way to identify habits you can piggyback off is simply to go through a normal day in your head and write it all down (e.g shower, brush teeth, read the newspaper, drive to work, etc.)

REWARD YOURSELF

In his book The Power of Habit, Duhigg discusses the 3 R’s of habit change: reminder, routine, and reward. Reward is when you receive positive reinforcement after performing the routine.

For example, many people have trouble cutting down on caffeine consumption because having their morning coffee is part of their routine. Instead of anticipating that reward after getting into work in the morning, try giving yourself a different kind of reward, such as green tea. You should also reward yourself with positive reinforcement, as studies have shown that just taking the time to consciously taking note of your own success when you  make progress will help you along tremendously.

EXERCISE

This may seem like a generic positive habit to have in your life, but exercise is so much more because it often acts as a catalyst for introducing other positive changes to your life. Not only does it boost your confidence and mood, the key is its ability to infuse positive thinking into your life, as it’s essential to think positively to sustain regular exercise. So if you want to create habits like consuming less alcohol or healthy eating, pairing it with exercise is essential.

IT TAKES TIME

We’ve all heard sayings about how it takes [X] days to form a new habit. Some say 21, some say 60, some say 90, the list goes on. But the truth is that it takes a different amount of time for everyone. Some people who are more prone to routine may only take a month to form a new habit or reverse a negative one, but others who have struggled with a certain habit in the past may take months. The key is to stick it out, and stay positive. When it feels automatic or natural to be doing something, it means you’re on the right track or have already succeeded.

FIND THE RIGHT PEOPLE

Don’t ever feel that you’re alone is trying to make difficult changes in your life. Whether it’s finding a friend who has the same goals as you and can keep you accountable, or being around people whose traits you want to emulate, it’s important to surround yourself with a support network. Being able to talk about your progress and share in your success is crucial to maintaining a good level of motivation to see you through.

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