How to Create Habits that StickAug 04, 2022
Happy Father's Day if you are celebrating today!
Have you ever wanted to achieve a goal or bring about a positive change in your life, but struggled to consistently take the actions needed to do so? The solution may lie in developing the right habits – but often, it can be difficult to continue following those habits after you initially create them.
As a Harvard-trained behavioral economist and psychologist with a lifelong passion for learning and self-improvement, Michael Balchan has studied the art and science of building effective habits as part of his quest to become the highest version of himself. In Episode 99 of The MINDSet Game® podcast, Michael shares some of his valuable insights about how to create habits that stick.
Using the power of your mind to continue following good habits
Michael notes that your mind is incredibly powerful, and harnessing its power is one of the keys to building good habits. For instance, he discusses the importance of using celebration and positive reinforcement to reward yourself when you do the things you wanted to do, rather than punishing yourself or using negative self-talk when you fall short of your goals. The reason for this is that positive reinforcement floods your brain with feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, causing the brain to start looking for opportunities to achieve the same effect again – which, ideally, will mean that you’ll be more eager to practice your good habits in the future.
Another way to use the power of your mind in developing healthy habits is to follow an algorithmic pattern that works with your environment and willpower. Algorithms essentially operate with an “if this, then that” sequence; in the context of habits, this could mean setting up a prompt in your environment that will cue you to take a specific action. For example, if you want to build a habit of going for a run every morning, you might consider laying out your running clothes in your bedroom before you go to sleep. When you wake up and see the prompt, it will be easier to follow through with your desired action, and should eventually become nearly automatic.
At times when you may find it difficult to follow these algorithms and implement the habits you’re seeking to build, it might help to understand a few key parts of your brain structure: the reptilian brain, which is focused on basic needs and survival; the emotionally driven mammalian brain; and the rational brain, which is capable of logical thought. Sometimes, the rational part can disengage, allowing the reptilian or mammalian brains to take over and making it more likely that you will act in a way that doesn’t reflect your best self. When this happens, simply taking a few breaths and pausing to question what you’re feeling and why are among the most powerful things you can do. By developing a meditation practice, you can prepare yourself to respond to these situations in a calm, rational, and effective manner.
The role of identity in habit building
In addition to harnessing the power of your mind, Michael stresses the importance of getting clear on the identity you’re seeking to adopt. “We will only perform to the level of our self-image,” he says. “And we will only behave out of the identity that we are attached to; we're committed to having a self-concordant narrative about who we are and how we show up in the world.” Therefore, it’s essential to consider your current self-identity, and if it doesn’t align with what you’re seeking to become, start focusing on what the best, most heroic version of yourself would look like.
Michael also notes that your identity drives the actions you take – so in order to build and stick to good habits, it’s important to cultivate an identity that is consistent with those desired habits. Once you are clear on this identity, he suggests reaffirming it on a daily basis to continue ensuring that your identity and your actions are in alignment.
Currently, Michael Balchan serves as the Head Coach and Chief of Staff at Heroic, a public benefit corporation that uses proven, behavioral-designed technology to empower individuals to move from theory to practice to mastery and express the highest version of themselves. To learn more, visit https://www.heroic.us, where you will find an abundance of tools and materials designed to help you become the highest and best version of yourself.
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