In order to answer the question, "How do you effectively start a habit?" — first, we must understand what a habit is.
A habit is task that has become so consistently engrained that it begins to be carried out autonomously—by the unconscious mind—such as drinking a cup morning coffee every day.
Why are habits important for accomplishing long term goals?
Because the moment you form a habit, it signifies that you have now transcended out the window pain that normally accompanies taking up a new task.
When something becomes engrained as a habit, it becomes much less unpleasant to carry out that task. It just becomes natural.
The reason it is so difficult to turn a productive undertaking into a consistent practice is because it is often painful to carry out productive task. If the task is drinking coffee, or sleeping every night, it is easy to turn those tasks into habits because they are pleasurable. However, if the task is painful, like writing and editing articles, getting up and going to the gym, setting aside to time to do affirmations, then it is far more difficult to become consistent.
We are hardwired to avoid pain. Pain is helpful. It instructs us what to avoid so we don’t die, and our species can continue to reproduce.
The ease at which we can establish a habit, is directly proportional to how quickly we receive our pleasure or reward, and inversely proportional to how much pain or effort it takes to get there.
99% of the things you do are habits. The way you think is a habit. The way you present yourself to other people is a habit. Whether you start books and never finish them. They are all products of the thoughts you habitually tell yourself and the actions that you repeatedly carry out. Whatever habit you have, in some way your mind believes it is serving you.
If your lazy, perhaps it frees you up from trying and failing. If you have a victim mentality, perhaps it liberates you from personal responsibility.
In essence, you are automatic creature. However, fortunately, habits can be changed.
That is where self awareness comes into play. Self awareness is the one variable in human existence, which separates us from all other species and allows us to accomplish amazing things. In our unique ability to be aware of our habits, we have the opportunity to reengineer them and establish new ones that serve us.
For a short period of time, we can choose to use our free will (or DISCIPLINE), in the face of resistance to push past the initial window of pain, make something become natural/expected, and thus, establish a new pattern.
Now there is a bunch of conflicting literature on how long it takes to do that. I have heard 21 days. 40 days. etc.
In my opinion, that’s all nonsense and propaganda. The amount of time it takes varies from person to person. There is only one way to tell if you established a habit.
I have used this measuring stick time and time again, to determine whether I have finally established a new pattern in my life.
The answer is two-fold:
A) when it task becomes noticeably less painful to complete
B) when you go to bed without doing it, it actually feels like your missing something
When you meet these to criteria, then you know it is engrained.
I hope this helps to establish habits that will serve you and your long term goals. By becoming aware of your patterns and reengineering them so that they meet this criteria, you will be surprised at what you accomplished.
This video expands on this topic and details my experiences with this philosophy.
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