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Why You Have Bad Habits & The Core of How to Change Them

Bad habits can be frustrating and difficult to break, but it is possible to overcome them with the right strategies. To understand why you have bad habits and how to change them, you need to look at the underlying causes and the elements that affect your decisions.

When making decisions, know that your brain will do everything it possibly can to align your conscious thoughts with your current identity. This is a survival technique by your mind to ensure that it only has to exert so much energy. If you have never done what you're trying to do, or an attempt in the past led to failure, your identity only knows to pull that data. Therefore, the work you're going to have to do to stay focused on the task at hand will be much tougher than anticipated.

This is why so many people quit right after deciding to start a new habit or break an old one. Knowing this, we can implement a strategy to checking ourselves when we know our emotions and old habits start to take over.

Here are 5 things to consider.

1. How We Make Decisions

For us to make decisions that are going to stick through the tough times, we need three aligned attributes.

  1. A goal or a target that is defined and clear

  2. A fulfilling purpose

  3. Action that move us in those directions

Have you ever wondered why you can learn to ride a bike at such a young age, go decades without getting on one and be almost as skilled as if you had never stopped? This is because our mental, emotional and physical traits were all working at the same time to learn the skill. You were pedaling and trying to balance while someone cheered you on and helped you stay upright, and at the same time, you were thinking about all the things you needed to do: "Left, right... Oh, handle bars... Where's the brake?!" All of these things led to immense emotion, and when you finally succeeded, you felt like you were on top of the world. Just like learning to ride a bike, when those three core elements align — the mental, physical and emotional — to work at the same time, the result is embedded deep in your identity.

You can remember this with the acronym: GPA. Your brain's mental aspects need a goal, so it has a specific thing on which to focus. If it doesn't have that, it will find something that aligns with your current habits. Our emotions need support from a fulfilling purpose, which we'll talk more about in a minute, and our physical nervous system needs action to support the brain in its quest to stay focused on the mission.

When those three elements become aligned, you will make progress.

2. How We Adjust Purpose

Without purpose, it is hard to go to the next level. Purely having powerful goals and actions may allow you to accomplish a lot, but it likely will not be very fulfilling. To develop a strong sense of purpose, you need to be able to control your state of mind. This will allow you to not only recruit emotion to assist you in developing meaning around your goals, but it will also ensure you are in the best physical position to be effective.

There are three parts of purpose we must be able to manipulate to get into state:

  1. Posture — The way you physically carry yourself

  2. Focus — What you're focused on

  3. Language or thoughts — The way you speak to yourself

When people are missing purpose from their lives, it's largely because they spend most of their time in states that don't support the vision they have for their lives. For example, if you want to have a happy, fulfilling life, but your state is one of constant stress, it will take a miracle to create a life full of joy. By recognizing that your shoulders are raised, you're crunching your brow and your toes are curled, you can take immediate action to relax them. In addition, by taking a quick moment and focusing on the blessings in life and reminding yourself how grateful you are for the ones you love, your state goes from stressed to blessed.

3. How We Build Vision

Now that you understand making clear decisions and getting your emotional state back in order after it falls off, let's talk about the vision for your life.

Your vision is determined by 3 things:

  1. The needs it satisfies

  2. The beliefs you have about those needs

  3. The emotion supporting those beliefs

Whether you're conscious of the vision you're building or not, your brain will build one.

The brain craves survival above all else. It will do whatever it can to ensure that we are healthy and conserving energy for the most important things in our lives. This is why as people fall into unhealthy habits, they lose energy. It's not just because their body performs less effectively. It's also because the unconscious brain encourages the person to be less active, so it can use the energy to pump the heart and protect the organs, which have much more stress due to the unhealthy lifestyle.

Our psyche craves the following needs:

  1. Certainty

  2. Significance

  3. Love

  4. Growth

  5. Contribution

Everyone craves the first four. However, whichever one or two things you tend to crave most are your dominate needs. Those are the ones you'll find most present in your life. When dissecting a bad habit, you must recognize which need is being met before you can truly cause change. On the other hand, while building your vision for your life, it's important that it satisfy all six needs. If it doesn't, you will likely crave something different. This is why so many mentors tell you to THINK BIG. They know that the needs being met today will likely be much different after you've done ten years of growth.

4. How Our Beliefs Play a Part

Beliefs stem from experiences and the way we interpret them. We create foundational ideas about what things mean and then engrave them in our identities as part of who we are. However, many times beliefs get confused with values.

People can have the same values and different beliefs about how to implement them. For example, a firefighter may run into a burning building to meet his need for significance, while Hitler killed millions to meet his. The similar values was that they wanted to better the world, but they had severely different beliefs about how that should be implemented.

When you think about this in everyday life, you'll find your beliefs controlling your capabilities and, therefore, the strategies you can implement. The more you can adjust your beliefs, the more powerful your vision.

5. How Emotion Supports Beliefs

Emotion is the most influential part of our brains. It really runs the show, so we must be able to control it and enroll it to benefit us. That can be difficult, though, especially if our beliefs are deep convictions about how we should feel.

Emotions can act as a filter for your beliefs. If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, for example, you may be more likely to engage in unhealthy habits as a way to cope. You may know someone — or be someone — who always seems to find a way to fall back into a certain state. Maybe they tend to get depressed or really driven. Whatever it is, it seems like emotions stay incredibly consistent. That's because emotion has become habit, and it dictates which beliefs should be triggered.

Ultimately, all of our current habits and the ones we hope to create start with the brain making a decision based on the GPA of the particular situation. Small or big, we can define those choices, and then ensure that our beliefs and emotions align with our visions for our lives. Remember, most of this doesn't happen consciously, so if you find yourself falling into old habits, stop, and ask yourself about these five elements. Are they aligned? If not, break the pattern by making a conscious choice to do something different. It may not feel great at first, but the more it's aligned with the life you crave, the better it will be in the long run.


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