How Habits Shape Your Life

How Habits Shape Your Life

Let me ask you a question: Do you feel that you’ve lost control of your life?

Perhaps you had big dreams and goals, but as the years have gone by you’ve seen these fade into oblivion. Or maybe you’ve simply lost your post-college enthusiasm and can’t find anyway to get back on track.

If you identify with any (or all) of the above, don’t despair. I’ve been there, too; but, through trial and error, I’ve managed to find a surefire route that leads to freedom and success.

The secret is to understanding how getting your habits in check can help you take total control your life.

The Power of Habits

Everybody has habits – some good and some bad!

Many of these habits are formed from an early age, such as never finishing your meals or complaining when you can’t get what you want.

Habit forming never stops. And, as you’ve grown older, you might have picked up both good and bad habits.

Just think of your mornings…

It’s likely that before you get down to your daily grind, you rely on coffee or tea to give you a much-needed boost. While this may not be regarded as a bad habit, it’s still a habit that is dictating how you start your day. If you purchase coffee from a coffee shop, this is another specific habit.

Your mornings, and the rest of your day, likely consist of a chain of habits. So, in theory, to change your life, you have to change your habits–or at the very least, your patterns.

Fortunately, good habits can be formed in exactly the same way that bad habits are formed. And if you make a conscious and determined effort to do so, you can replace habits that are holding you back with positive alternatives that will propel you forward.

How Do You Do It?

First, you must understand exactly what a habit is.

Your brain has two distinct modes of decision making, which create habits.

  • Mode 1: The first is a conscious, intentional and controlled way of thinking. It requires energy and effort to sustain attention. You probably use Mode 1 when researching career options or spending time deciding on your holiday plans.
  • Mode 2: The second is an automatic, fast and usually subconscious way of thinking. It’s autonomous and efficient, requiring little energy or attention. For instance, when you’re getting ready for work in the morning or walking your dog in the evening, you automatically know what to do without having to think or refer to any external help. It comes easily and naturally for you.

Whenever you face a problem or dilemma, your brain will instantly choose Mode 1 or 2, depending on which is the most efficient solution. By doing this, your brain saves energy and avoids over-processing. If your brain cannot find a solution using Mode 1, then it will move over to Mode 2.

This is how your brain learns and maps patterns together to deal with the countless decisions you have to make everyday.

So, the key to building a new habit is to be able to enter into Mode 2 when doing something; and, with enough practice it can be adopted by Mode 1. In other words, consciously repeating something will lead to it becoming part of your subconscious (this usually takes around 30 days).

Let me give you an example of this:

Imagine learning a new language. The first few times you try and learn how to say something along the lines of “Hello, how are you?” are likely to be slow, and leave your tongue in a twist!

But, keep practicing, and in a relatively short period of time, you’ll be able to not only remember the words, but you’ll also be able to pronounce them smoothly and correctly. And, shortly after this, you’ll find yourself not having to think about the words at all–they’ll just automatically come to you.

This is an example of moving an action or behavior from Mode 2 to Mode 1. And, this is the way to successfully create a habit.

If you do this mindfully with your day to day actions, you can start shaping your life by your habits. Consider all the habits you have that shape your daily life–which ones can be improved upon, and which can be discarded all together? Any that you’d like to adopt that would make your life more enjoyable?

Never take the power of habits for granted; they ultimately make you who you are.

And, with that, I will leave you with this quote:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

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Article Author

Leon Ho

Leon Ho

Leon Ho is a coach and educator, as well as the founder and CEO of Lifehack, a well known productivity, health and lifestyle website. With over 30,000 articles published on Lifehack, he is recognized as a self-improvement expert, and holds a particularly commitment to helping people achieve success in their careers and other areas of their lives. Because of his expertise in self-improvement and his success in pioneering Lifehack, Ho was named Business Week's #4 "Top 24 Young Asian Entrepreneurs", and has been featured in multiple publications, including at the UC Berkeley Hass School of Business, Apple Daily, The Globe and Mail, Harvard College, the Guardian, Time Magazine, and the Washington Post.

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