Have you ever heard this sentence “thoughts lead to feelings which lead to actions which lead to habits”? Actually, it doesn’t end at habits; it leads further to destiny, life, etc. Yet, since we are talking about habits, let us stop there and discuss about how to change bad habits that we are having. For students, your bad habits can be procrastination, laziness, etc. The following are some easy, proven steps that you can take to change bad habits that you may be having now. (Remember, I just provide you overall concept; how you do it totally depends on your personalization skills, flexibility and persistence).
1. Realization or awareness
For logic-oriented person, this first step is the most logical amongst all the steps in habit-changing procedures. How can you change your bad habit if you don’t know or acknowledge that you are having one? Therefore, the utterly foremost thing you should do is to identify the habit you want to change or the new change you want to have incorporated into your life.
There are two ways that you can identify your bad habits. First, ask yourself directly. Take out a piece of paper and write some soul-searching questions such as ‘what am I doing nowadays?’, ‘what is holding me back from achieving my dream life?’, ‘how well do I spend my time now?’, ‘who am I around?’, ‘am I healthy enough?’, etc. When you answer these questions, be sincerely true; don’t under-or over-state your premises because if you do, you risk wasting a lot of your time changing something you don’t want to be changed and getting what you have never wanted. Second, people surrounding you, such as parents, close friends, friends, relatives, etc., may be able to tell you your weaknesses. Sometimes, people who watch you playing game are able to see your moves much clearer than you do because you are too busy playing. Plus, there is nothing morally wrong to ask people for advice/help only if those advices are constructive.
Warning! Not all people are good with and like you. They are for sure some people who want to plunge your life so that they can enjoy theirs. So, choosing the right, supportive people to listen to is pivotal. Listen to those who wholeheartedly support and want you to succeed. They encourage you, share with you their valued time and congratulate you when you achieve your goals.
Sometimes, they may be harsh (language use) on you but they will never desert you. In contrast, please ignore those you criticize you and they do it with joy. It is their mouth to yell, shout, scold or whatever, but it is also up to your ears to listen to those destructive words or not. Train yourself to ignore their distractions and I assure you that your life will be much happier and brighter. (If you are interested, click How do I differentiate constructive from destructive people? to read more)
No one does anything without any reason. I believe with all my heart that you have reasons to hold on to your bad habits. I don’t care whether your reasons are logical, emotional or what, but you do have some causes to do the things you are doing. Therefore, if you want to have your bad habits replaced or changed, you have got to have some motives too. And those motives have to be more compelling than the ones you have for maintaining your bad habits.
In order to find some motivation for doing something new or changing your habits, you have got to ask yourself some life-changing questions ‘Whys’!
In order to find some motivation for doing something new or changing your habits, you have got to ask yourself some life-changing questions ‘Whys’. The ‘Whys’ should come first as the leader of every move that you are making. Those ‘Whys’ questions do not have to be complicated in sentence or grammatical structures. The characteristics of those ‘Whys’ questions are:
First, they should be simple. Remember, true knowledge is simple and simplicity is the real key. No matter how elegant your questions are, they are meaningless if you don’t understand them fully. The questions should lead you to think about the content, not the correctness of the sentence structures.
Second, they should be relentless. The objective of the ‘Whys’ questions is to find your real motivation to do anything in life. You probably have heard of Socratic questioning approach. (Socrates was one of the most revolutionary philosophers ever lived in this world). His approach is very simple; he just asked ‘Why’ to every answer he gets until he finds the root motive of everything.
Let me give you an example of how to find your motivation. This example is made up by using my experience working with one of my students. Please read the following conversation carefully.
|Me: Why do you learn English language?Student:Because I want to pursue higher education and English language is crucial.Me: Why pursuing higher education is so important to you?
Student: Because I want to have a strong specialized skill.
Me: What are the benefits of having a strong specialized skill?
Student: Having a specialized skill allows me to choose the kind of work that I love.
Me: Why do you want to work on something that you love?
Student: If I work on something that I love, I will be able to work longer and more quickly. Also, I will also earn a lot of money.
Me: Why does earning a lot of money make you happy?
Student: It sure does because I will be able to do many things that I have dreamed of, go to places that I have always wanted to, and live a life without any financial problems.
In the above-mentioned example, you can see that I lead my student from a reason that is lame to the one that deeply interests him a lot. Personally, there are two benefits of Socratic questioning approach. Firstly, it allows us to find out what we REALLY want in our life. It is not enough to say that we want a lot of money; we’ve got to know what money can bring us such as nice clothes, up-to-date electronic gadgets, etc. It is not money that makes us happy; it is all about things that money can do to bring us happiness. Secondly, the approach makes you think of something that you have never thought of. If not used, your brain relaxes too much that it doesn’t work well as you wish when you want to use it. In fact, your brain should be regularly trained to handle things and work on various things regardless of topics. By this, your brain is always ready to work whenever you want it to. And the good news is that when trained hard and smart, your brain doesn’t decrease its ability, but it develops even much better and expands exponentially.
3. Action plan
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. If I am not mistaken, most people have heard this saying but very few have seriously taken this saying by actually putting it into practice. While I am writing this, I suddenly remember a story I got when I read a book whose topic I have already forgotten. Once upon a time, there was a man, and he was given a saw and two hours to cut down a big tree. A lot of people challenged him that he was not able to do it no matter what, but he finally did. Most people in his village were extremely shocked, and a woman came to ask him how he did it. He just said that he had spent one hour and a half planning and sharpening his saw, and the remaining half an hour to actually cut the tree.
The morale of this story is that planning is pivotal and can’t be taken for granted at all. Planning is important because it allows you to select what you want to do exactly and correct any mistakes anticipated. There is a related Khmer proverb which says that ‘think before you draw’. Before doing anything especially important one, it is encouraged that we plan well before we sketch or else we can’t get exactly what we want. If you do anything without planning, you will find it excruciatingly hard to cope with the situations if anything wrong happens. They say life is unpredictable; anything can happen. But if you plan your life well, it will become more predictable in a way that you can get almost anything you want when you want it.
To change your bad habits or make new changes, you’ve got to consider planning as your inevitable move. You need to know what you are going to do exactly by putting actions down into written words, considering all the obstacles you are going to face, consulting with people who are able to help you achieve your goals faster and easier, revising them on a daily or weekly basis until they become part of your life, and putting them somewhere you can see them always so that you won’t forget them.
There is an old adage which says, “The only way to determine the future is to create it yourself”. How do you do that? It is easy. First, just take down a piece of white paper and write all the possible activities that you can do to change your bad habits. You may consult with people who have succeeded in changing their bad habits which are similar to the ones you want to get rid of right now or consult some books or websites (like you are reading my website now). While putting them down into written words, please be non-judgmental over your language use or ideas. Please write what is in your heart and head in a way that you are brainstorming an essay using free-writing technique. The more ideas (activities) you can come with, the better.
Second, after you have written all your ideas down, it is time that you sorted them out. You can’t just leave your precious ideas so messy that you don’t even want to touch them. They are you gold; one of them may be able to change your life for good. So, please sort them down nicely and I suggest that you put them in three main categories: Yes, No, and Maybe. In the Yes category, you should put the activities that you are sure will work for you. Those activities may be the ones that you have done before and enjoyed doing them. For the No category, you can just drop in some activities that seem so alien and impossible for you. They might be the ones that you have done in your life and failed to get any tangible results from them. Besides the Yes and No categories, those activities that are new to you or seemingly interesting should fall into the Maybe category.
Third, after you have separated your gold from dust through a filter of considerate thoughts, what you have to do now is to put your gold into action for you. Remember, talking alone is cheap; it is the doing that brings tangible results. The first step you should take is to review all the activities in your Yes and Maybe categories to choose the most proper ones to put into practice. When it comes into action, you’ve got to be extra-alert to make sure that they answer all some important questions such as What, When, and How. To be relatively clear, your reference questions can be ‘What am I going to do EXACTLY?’, ‘When do I start and finish doing it?’ and ‘How do I do it RIGHT?’ These questions should be guidance to judge the characteristics of the kind of activity you are going to take. For instance, if you are taking the right activity, you will be able to answer all the three questions (How, What and When) precisely and clearly.
4. Habit replacement
According to Mr. Zig Ziglar, one of the well-known motivational speakers and authors in the United States, there is no such thing as eliminating bad habits. He lectured that it is impossible for people to omit or get rid of their bad habits. The best that they can handle their bad habits is to replace them with good ones, which means that your bad habits stay with you for the rest of your life, but you have choice whether to use them or not.
In my experience of trying to omit my bad habits (before learning Mr. Ziglar’s above-mentioned theory), I found myself unsuccessful in doing so because after a period of time those bad habits simply came back to me again. For example, I had always wanted to stop watching TV (I wanted to have more time to do other things and TV just destroyed my reality view of the world). So, I had made decision to just stop. For a short while (one or two days), I could do it. But after that period, I simply picked up the remote control and started living up to my resilient bad habit of watching TV again. A lot of times, I had failed until one day (when I listened to Mr. Ziglar’s lecture) I found out the root cause of my failure. It is because I had nothing else appealing to do besides watching TV.
Today as I am writing this, I can proudly say that finally I have stopped watching TV a lot like before. I used to watch at least 4 hours of TV on a daily basis, but TV is just not that important to me anymore right now. It no longer controls me; I control it. How can I do that? I just replace watching TV with some of my favorite activities such playing guitar, reading Personal Development or Business-related books, etc. Even though reading books or playing guitar is my favorite activity, sometimes it (was and) is not easy for me to enjoy doing them instead of watching TV. I still have the rooted desire to turn on the screen of my TV and sit down surfing the channels. But I just educate myself that I have other important and enjoyable things to do that I can’t watch TV. I believe that watching TV has already instilled in my subconscious mind which can’t be eliminated, but now that I am trying to introduce other favorite activities of mine into the subconscious mind too, I am 100 percent positive that in near future I will be able to stop watching TV completely for good.
5. Persistency and consistency
In order to be successful in achieving anything worthwhile, you need to learn to be persistent and consistent in what you do. You must be able to never quit no matter how tough the circumstances get and follow the same or similar procedure no matter how boring the things you are trying to achieve are. These two concepts (persistency and consistency) are very similar that you may find very confusing, so let me break them down for the sake of your easy understanding.
First of all, persistence is the ability to persist/move forward/struggle regardless of the toughness of the situations. Simply put, this is the ability, innate or trained, that allows you to never give up no matter what. When it comes to persistence, it is usually easier said than done. To be persistent, it takes heart, effort (tears and blood), and self-confidence. It takes you to say ‘Yes’ when the rest of the world say ‘No’. If you are a leader, you’ve got to be able to stick to your idea (if you wholeheartedly believe it is the right one) when no one follows you.
Let me tell you a true story of my academic life related to persistence. When I was in year 2 at IFL, I was selected to join IFL Debate Club—one of the most prestigious opportunities IFL had to offer then. It was indeed an exciting and fruitful experience for me. But the beginning of my journey there was not easy. Back then, the club was rather weak in management structure, operation system and many other things. For the first couple sessions, I was ecstatic and happy to learn many new things. Yet, day by day, more and more people started to leave the club saying that they had learnt too little and found no big value in the club at all. In some sessions, there were fewer than 10 members present even though the real number was around 60. Frankly, I was almost influenced, and decided to quit too. However, I gave myself a second thought and did not quit because I saw the hidden value of the club, which not so many people could. I am glad that I did not give in to those people and give up on the club, or else I don’t know whether I am able to write this article now.
Second, it is about consistency, the ability to do the boring things without caring about whatever people think about you. A lot of people fail to succeed in life because they stop doing what they are doing too early because they themselves find them boring and because other people suggest them to do other things that may be more interesting. And it allows you to experiment any strategies that you are taking. For example, in order for a tree to grow, it needs water, sunlight, etc. And it needs those substances regularly—hourly, daily, weekly or monthly—before it can provide big shade, good wood, and fruits. In short, don’t change what you do easily especially during early stage (experiment stage).
You know what, being consistent is very important because it helps you do the work regardless of your mood. You and I know that we are moody and emotionally sensitive, sometimes without any logical reasons at all. Those feelings may come from bad weather, noisy neighborhood, distracting environment, unsuccessful relationship, etc. and often, they stop us from taking action and producing what we can produce. Therefore, we do need consistency to keep us active at all times and remind us that we have a lot of important things to do NOW (that we can’t ignore because of some illogically emotional reasons or the environment). In this sense, consistency allows us to prioritize things based on its importance, urgency and logic.
A lot of researches in the field of Personal Development have proved that it takes anyone at least 21 consecutive days to develop a new habit. Personally, I don’t focus much on the time, but the uninterrupted nature of the action that we need to take in order to succeed in making a new habit part of our life. By this, it simply means that you can’t just start and stop, stop and start any action and hope that it will become your habit. Any new activity which you want to transform into your habit must be exercised on a REGULAR basis. For example, if you want to make aerobic exercise your habit, you’ve got to do it for some period of time REGULARLY, CONSISTENTLY and PERSISTENTLY until the change travels from your conscious into subconscious mind.
Actually, reward is quite similar to motivation, but it is just more tangible. You can see, touch, smell, hear, or even eat it. No one wants to do anything without any benefits. So, please give yourself some nice prizes that you can enjoy when you achieve your goal of changing your bad habits and getting new ones. For example, you can reward yourself some new clothes when you are able to quit smoking. Or, you can let yourself enjoy some seafood after you are able to quit staying late at night and start getting up early in the morning.
For some people, when it comes to reward, they like to be challenged. Good challenges can be good ways to change your bad habits because they arouse a sense of competition, dignity, and reputation in you. For example, if you bet 100$ with your friend that you can stop drinking coffee for a month, you will do your best to win that 100$. In fact, it is not solely about that $100, but it is also about your promise and reputation that you want to win too.
Personally, I would not encourage competition with other people as a way to change your bad habits since inside-out changing is more effective and long-lasting than outside-in changing, but if the previous approach is too difficult for you at early stage, you may want to try the latter one to see whether it works for you.