By Tania Kotsos
UPDATED: NOV 2020
Changing habits is fundamental to changing your life and in time to creating the life of excellence you may desire. We are all creatures of habit. Everything you repeatedly do, say and think is as a direct result of your habits. Habits are those actions or reactions which are on auto-pilot, which you do without consciously having to think about them. The success you enjoy in your life or the lack thereof, is directly related to the nature of your habits, which themselves are a product of your beliefs. It stands to reason, therefore, that to enjoy permanent, positive change in your life, you must change your negative beliefs. And to change your beliefs is fundamental to changing habits.
Before attempting to change habits it is useful to know the purpose of your habits. The reason anything becomes habitual at the subconscious level is for the conservation of your mind's energy so that you don't have to think about something each time you want to do it. This is why, for instance, after some practice you can drive a car habitually rather than having to think about each car part and what it does. And really it's a good thing otherwise we'd still have to think about walking. So habits are really a very powerful tool of your mind because they free up your conscious mind to learn new things and for you to live with greater self-awareness towards what is going on around you, rather than having to be preoccupied with very action you take.
Since the subconscious mind is impersonal in nature, it does not distinguish between what serves you and what doesn't, and so adopts a negative habit with the same ease that it adopts a positive one. Moreover, while the ability to adopt habits is meant to serve you by freeing up your self-awareness, most people live as if automatons or machines of habit with little if any self-awareness, let alone acknowledgement that they can change habits.
What follows are 5 steps for changing habits. While each step is described for your understanding, related articles are found at the end of this article. To maximise your success and make the best of use of your time and effort, I strongly suggest reading the associated articles, keeping a journal and taking it step-by-step rather than randonly trying to change habits.
To be able to change habits you must first identify them. You can start by examining your daily routine. You will find that most of what you do, say and think on a daily basis is habitual. From the moment you wake up in the morning, your physical and mental routine is already in place and you faithfully follow it with little or no conscious consideration.
This applies to all areas of your life. The general state of your relationships reflects your social habits; that of your health and body reflects your eating and exercise habits; that of your bank account reflects your financial and spending habits and so on. Habits either serve you or they don't. They either take you toward the life you want to live or away from it. In the words of Will Durant inspired by Aristotle, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." This is why changing your habits can and does change your life.
Let's take a look at the relationship between your habits and your beliefs, and hence the importance of changing beliefs to changing habits. Your thoughts, perceptions, actions and reactions are generally coloured by your core beliefs. When you have a certain belief about yourself or someone else or some area of life, what you feel, what you think, what you say and do are all expressed in accordance with those beliefs, whether you realise it or not.
And since the thoughts and actions that are born of your beliefs are constantly repeated, so it is that your habits are a function of what you believe. Ultimately, you are what you believe you are and so to know who you are at the level of your personality, you must identify your core beliefs, and perhaps more importantly your limiting beliefs (also linked at the end of this article). You cannot expect to permanently change habits that are negative into positive ones if their underlying beliefs remains negative. Changing habits and beliefs, therefore, go hand-in-hand.
Once your habits are firmly in place, they serve to reaffirm your beliefs such that it may become difficult to distinguish the parent from the child. Most people find it challenging to permanently change habits that are unwanted because they try to adopt a new habit without dealing with the underlying negative belief and more often than not, they find themselves reverting to their old habits.
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In so doing, they lose weeks and even months or years of concerted effort and usually become discouraged and quit their attempts to change habits that are negative, not realising that the underlying negative belief is the source of their failed attempt, not their lack of will or desire.
The roller-coaster ride that most dieters experience is a clear example of why changing habits is a challenge in the face of an underlying negative belief. The only reason most diets fail is because the dieter has a negative underlying belief that goes unchecked. If the dieter has a belief such as 'I am fat' then no health or exercise regime aimed at changing habits will be met with permanent success if that belief remains intact. Sooner or later, he/she will take actions that resonate with that negative belief once more and so regain any weight they may have lost. They 'have to' because it is their belief not their habits that is running the show.
Persistently changing habits can in time lead to a change in the underlying belief but trying to create a positive habit in the face of belief that challenges that habit, takes great amounts of self-control and success is not always guaranteed. In contrast, by also changing the negative belief associated with the negative habit, changing habits comes naturally. In other words, creating a new, positive habit requires little or no self-control when the underlying belief is working with it rather than against it.
You do not have to wait to change your negative or limiting beliefs before changing habits to create new positive habits. Instead, you can work on the two together thereby speeding up the process. The emphasis here is to also change the negative beliefs, not to wait before changing habits. Change the two together and success will quickly be yours. Using the example of the dieter, changing his/her negative belief from 'I am fat' to 'Isn't it wonderful to be slim and healthy—I love my body' while at the same time systematically adopting new healthy eating and exercise habits that reflect the new belief, is the route to permanent success in changing habits.
Your habits have been acquired through repetition but you were born with a clean habit slate. This is good news when wanting to change habits. Both your 'good' and 'bad' habits were created from the beliefs that you adopted through your interactions with your teachers, peers, parents and society in general. Without consciously choosing your beliefs and hence your habits, you effectively leave yourself and your life in the hands of social conditioning.
There is no need to allocate blame for your habits or your beliefs as this would only serve to further entrench them and makes changing habits far more difficult. All you need to do is consciously choose those habits that serve you and eliminate those that fail you by changing your associated beliefs. It is never too late to change your beliefs, nor is it ever to late to change habits.
Everything that you habitually do, say or think today, started off as a single action or thought which was repeated often enough until it was passed down to your subconscious mind where it became a habit. All habits reside at the level of your subconscious mind where you no longer have to consciously think about them in order to act on them. Therefore, to change habits permanently you must also reprogram your unwanted negative or limiting beliefs at the subconscious level.
A powerful technique with which to consciously access and reprogram your subconscious mind is creative visualization, which is also the key manifesting technique for creating your own reality. You can change your negative beliefs by persistently imagining a scene in which you feel and experience the new positive belief and see yourself effortlessly repeating the actions that you want to become your habits that are aligned with the new belief. You will soon find that your actions and thoughts in your day-to-day life begin to reflect your new beliefs until such time that they too become habitual.
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If your efforts to imagine a new you in the face of a negative belief is not met with success, you can turn to another powerful technique, namely the Mental By-Product Technique at the end of this article. This technique essentially bypasses your negative or limiting beliefs in what you imagine and so changing habits becomes far easier. You can also use the daily repetition of positive affirmations and the use of autosuggestions with persistence, both of which are very powerful techniques for reprogramming the mind by changing limiting beliefs and adopting new beliefs, and so also for changing habits. Bear in mind that at the end of this article you will find links to detailed articles about all the aforementioned techniques for changing habits.
When changing habits, a good indicator to gauge to what degree your underlying negative beliefs have been replaced is how much self-control you have to use. Any time you find yourself having to use significant amounts of self-control to do something positive that you know serves your intended outcome, then there is probably still a conflict between your actions and an underlying negative belief. Anything you do or say that is aligned with your beliefs, whether positive or negative, requires no self-control or force.
This is not to say that some or even great amounts of self-control will not be necessary at the beginning of your efforts to change your negative beliefs and adopt new positive habits. However, self-control is the domain of the conscious mind whereas your aim in changing habits is to transform your new positive actions into habits of the subconscious mind, which is the domain that knows nothing of self-control and needs nothing of the sort to carry out its actions.
It is worth noting again that the fact that you can repeat a task often enough until you can perform it without having to consciously think about it, is testament to the power of your subconscious mind. This ability frees up your conscious mind to continuously process and learn new information that serves your success until the associated actions become habitual and so the process can be repeated. Having said this, most people are inadvertently at the service of their beliefs and habits because they never consciously chose them and nor do they live their life with self-awareness today.
Your beliefs are yours to choose and your habits are yours to create. Changing habits is in your hands. Commit to making your habits serve you and your success. Ultimately, you have the power to create a life of excellence and the choice to define just what excellence means to you.
No words quite capture the relationship between your beliefs, your habits and your destiny as precisely as these of Mahatma Gandhi: "Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny."
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