A lot of times, people want to change; they want to form new habits, to break certain old ones. They sincerely wish to have a certain discipline in life. They kick off with great enthusiasm, they even gather momentum, but often, somewhere in between seeing results and staying motivated, something undesirable happens: they start to go back to their old ways. The more they resist, the greater the pull by the old habits. So, why is it so hard to make new habits or break old ones? And what can be done to fix it?
Formation of new habits or elimination of undesirable old ones requires a certain mental strength. If you can tame your mind, befriend it, you can not only form any new habit, but you can altogether transform yourself to the type of person you always wished to be. Let me share with you the three principles of forming new habits or discarding old ones:
1. Make it short term, and do not waiver
The first common mistake is to make long-term, if not lifelong, commitments toward forming a new habit. For example, you love chocolates, but you want to lose weight. If you vow to never eat chocolate again, your mind is unlikely to let you honor it. The more you try to take your mind off a certain habit, the harder it gets. Only if you can shift the thought elsewhere can the cravings subside.
You can make it even easier by making short-term promises to yourself and simply extending them. The human mind is designed to make smart short-term plans. Even the greatest chess grandmaster cannot calculate beyond nine moves in chess. If you promise to do something for a shorter period, your mind will cooperate with you. For example, you may vow that no matter what, this week you are going to go to the gym five times and that you will not eat chocolate for the next three days. Take it one day at a time. You will find that motivation stays fresh and your enthusiasm doesn’t waiver.
2. Have patience
Patience is the key. Think of your habit as a big rock, the one that’s heavy. Your job is to crush it into pieces before you can remove it completely. Habits are like hardened psychic imprints. They live in your subconscious mind, and they trigger conscious actions. The older a habit, the bigger and harder the rock. When you start to follow a certain discipline to change your habit(s), do not expect miracles to unfold in a matter of days.
My personal experience has been that on an average it takes about three months before one starts to see the results from adopting any new practice. Just keep executing your plan, day in and day out, with patience and persistence. If you follow the first principle, you only have to do it for a short duration. Once done, simply reset and repeat. Imagine a sculptor: her job is to carve a lifelike statue out of a round stone. Regardless of skill and aptitude, she requires time. Your habits have formed over a period of time, and it will take some time to get rid of them permanently. All you need for patience is a bit of self-dialog. Your mind will understand.
3. Execute your plan, and do so firmly
You may have infinite patience or definitive plans, but they are pointless without action. It is action alone that is going to yield results. Everything being equal, it is your mind alone that prompts you or stops you from taking action. If you are motivated, you could run a marathon. However, if you are not, you may struggle to stay on the treadmill for even five minutes. It is easier for the mind to stay motivated for short periods, for shorter durations.
Imagine having a toddler in the car. He keeps asking you, “When’re we gonna be home?” You are four hours away, but if you tell him that, chances are you will never get home, not in peace anyway. So, what do we do? We tell him that we are nearly there. We keep telling him that till we get home.
Similarly, if you tell your mind that every day you are going to do something for the next six months, it will simply overpower you. Just act on it one day at a time, and watch miracles unfold right before your very eyes. So, can you promise yourself to go to the gym today? Just for a day. Make that promise to yourself several times over many days. Eventually, it will become a habit.
Interestingly, yogic texts offer great insight into the formation of habits. Habits are spontaneous reactions. They are those imprints that have found place in the subconscious mind. The Yoga Sutras states that human memory is the unmodified collection of words and experiences. They make a person who they are. Erasing those psychic imprints can greatly enhance your capability in changing your habits. You can read up more on that here.