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Do you know what habits you need to change or develop?

Summary: You may have heard or read that it takes 21 days for a habit to gel.

Sallyann Della Casa

We are all creatures of habit. In fact, at least 40 per cent of everything we do each day is a repeat performance. This is because when we develop a habit our brain makes a neural pathway connection, so eliminating it will require rewiring that pathway with a new pathway to replace it. That takes effort, and now you know why you never stick to your New Year's resolutions.

So, what habits do you need to change or develop?

And exactly how long does it take to replace old or develop new habits?

You may have heard or read that it takes 21 days for a habit to gel. This can be true for some of us. In the book Psycho-Cybernetics by plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz, he documents how he noticed his nose-job patients took 21 days to get used to their new faces. Similarly, he saw about the same amount of time was needed for other patients, who had had a body part amputated, to adjust to their new situation. The book sold over 30 million copies, and a string of books thereafter cited this book, stating it takes 21 days to change a habit. However, the truth is, and future studies have shown, habit development varies for each of us, anywhere from two to eight months.

Changing habits requires you first to understand your habit loop that is, there is a cue that triggers a routine, which then triggers a reward.

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg stresses that the key is to change one keystone habit, and then that unlocks all the others. He gave the example of Paul O'Neill taking over as CEO of Alcoa. Things were bad; some 15,000 workers had gone on strike just before his appointment. When he was first hired, everyone expected him to come in and say he was going to focus on profits and efficiency. Instead, he decided to focus on transforming worker safety habits, so that there were zero injuries. Duhigg writes that O'Neill found critical manufacturing process was both dangerous to the employees and produced subpar aluminium. By fixing this process, O'Neill also found a way to fix the entire corporation.

Here is Duhigg's four-part process for habit identification and change:

Step 1: Figure out the routine

The goal is to identify how you go from a cue to following a habit that you hate. The more you know about a routine, the easier it is to change it.

Step 2: Try different rewards

You follow a habit because you are craving the reward. You must get to the bottom of the craving, which is why you go through the routine.

By adjusting the habit, you will figure out the real reason you follow it. For me it was the reward of feeling admired and respected, which meant my life had to be perfect. For many, it could be a need to fit in. Some want to emotional stability. Some want to relax. Think do you actually crave something else?

Step 3: Pinpoint the cue

What trigger tells your brain "Let's do this because there is this type of reward"?

In his book, Duhigg talks about the most common cues - location, time, emotional state, other people, and what action precedes this cue.

He suggests that you can gain a lot of insight by answering these five questions:

1-Where are you?

2-What time is it?

3-What's your emotional state?

4-Who else is around?

5-What action preceded the urge?

Write down answers to these five questions, and each time you experience a habit cue, you'll know that's the first step towards making a lasting change.

Step 4: Have a solid plan

Given you cannot change the cue and reward, what you can fix is the routine. Come up with a routine that provides the same reward without following the negative habit. The simplest way to do this is to have a specific plan (step-by-step) of action whenever you experience a cue. This will stop you from straying out of your routine and, with time, you will develop new habits.

Clearly, developing new habits depends on a wide set of variables with no simple, single answer. In the end, it will really depend on how badly you want to take control and change. Spending time thinking through the pros and cons of your current situation, about what is keeping you tied to a bad habit, and what benefits will a change in routine bring is the key to success. And always remember, habits are much easier to create or change if you have social support, so don't be afraid to enlist colleagues and friends to change habits together.

Sallyann Della Casa delivers 21st century skills through her edu-tech app, GLEAC

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Sep 24, 2018
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