We all have habits that take us on detours from experiencing life being the best that we can. There are many tools to help remove a habit: make it difficult, make it hurt, make it annoying, make it impact our social status. All of these start with noticing and then help to improve your ability to notice through linking the habit to pain. But you don’t have to hurt yourself to get rid of a habit no longer serving you.
We just have to start the “noticing” process. As we take notice of a specific habit, we will begin to train our minds to recognize the habit sooner and sooner and sooner. When we notice the habit with an intention to stop doing it, we will train ourselves to stop the habit all together. I call this “noticing with intention.” Eventually the noticing is so quick that the impulse of the habit dissipates entirely.
You must be clear on what you are noticing: Bad language, biting your nails, watching too much TV, ignoring your gut, eating junk food, etc. And then even more important is setting a clear intention with a clear motivation. Your motivation determines your will, determines the strength of your intention. Without a strong intention you will not experience change.
Another key facet recognized by BJ Fogg of “Tiny Habits”, is the importance of “Celebration!” Celebrating helps arouse the brains reward programming. When we celebrate each small victory on our path to building or breaking a habit, it builds a stronger neurological connection making it easier the next time, and the next time, and the next time – each and every time we celebrate. This can be a simple “Yes! I did it!”, “Yeah! That’s like me.” (reinforcing your belief that you are your best-self), or rewarding yourself with a food treat, etc. It important to celebrate every small notice and habit change, not just the big ones. Harvard studies showed that flourishing results from the celebrating of micro-wins.
So to put it simply:
2. With Intention
3. Celebrate every Micro-Win
I think everything is made more clear through examples or analogies, so let’s get one of those going. I’ll use another personal story because I can retell them most accurately 😉
I had a very filthy mouth. Filthy, Filthy, Filthy. To my knowledge I was the first person to start cursing in grade school (at 8 years of age in the third grade). I remember one specific occasion when my books didn’t fit into my desk, so I was shoving it in there saying “Fuckin…Get in there! You fucking book.” I remember my friends sitting near me looking over with an astonished look on their face. And I felt super cool because of it :p (kids will be kids, eh).
Any who, that habit continued to develop all the way through high school and into college where I used unholy language in every conversation I was in outside of teachers and family. Then I met myself a girl, a very beautiful wonderful girl. Head over heels, goo goo gaa gaa, in love kinda girl. This is not a healthy place for motivation to come from, but damn (pun intended) it is powerful stuff!
This girl, Angela, did not like cursing. So from that point on I was determined to clean out my mouth. I have a clear notice: fowl language. I have a strong motivation driving my will and intention: I want this girl to like me…also I’ve kind of wanted to do this for a while, but nothing provided that motivation to change (we all stay the same until our will to change becomes greater than our misery to stay the same).
“Fuck!” “Woops. Ok. I just cursed. Let’s not do that.” I would say to myself after every slip-up. Then after some time of committed, purposeful, and willed intention it became “Fu…” “Ok. Yeah. I’m catching you sooner.” That mental celebration is so key to allow yourself to access the reward centers of the brain. When the brain is told that something is good (either through chemical reactions like from sugar or drugs, or through social support or self-support) it will try harder to make that thing happen again. So after some more noticing, intention, and celebration , “Fff…” “Just a slight motion of the lips and I’m catching you.” I’m no longer saying any fowl words. I’m catching them at the tip of my tongue, literally!
Then something awesome happens. I start noticing the intention to curse before I make any physical assertion to do so. I just begin noticing within my mind the intention to curse as I’m speaking. I notice, I change the behavior via intention, I mentally celebrate, and speak freely without hiccups. Eventually I notice the desire to curse within my mind shrinking and shrinking. This habit that I have built up over the course of my entire life is shrinking. Over a period of about 2 months I went from having a sailor’s mouth to that of Steve Urkle. (Seriously?! I can’t think of a better example than Urkle???). No cursing, and no mental intention to curse. I no longer have to “notice with intention” because there is no longer anything to notice.
My behavior has changed only through noticing with intention. I didn’t have to put money into a jar every time I cursed or eat soap. These negative reinforcements are never as strong as positive motivations for change. Try to set yourself up for success by envisioning the future you’ll have by making this behavioral change. Remember the impact it will have on your life. For me, I was able to envision having this girl like me more by breaking this habit (and by-the-way, yes, we did end up together for a time <3).
Celebrate and feel good about every small success in the process. When I first noticed the “Fuck!” in my sentence, I felt good about it. I didn’t think to myself, “You suck. You just committed to not cursing and already you said ‘Fuck’. Fuck!” I knew it would not change in one day or one week. It would take deliberate practice over time. I also knew that the first step was to catch the action as I did it. And slowly, surely, I would catch it sooner and sooner until POOF! All gone 😀