The Power of Habit

by Catherine Levison

As we all know, New Year's resolutions are notorious for being broken almost as soon as they're made. Ordinarily, no one would make an attempt to improve an area of their life only to turn around and fall right back into their old patterns.

The power of habit is the key to success when it comes to changing anything. Even though every change usually starts with a conscious decision, nothing will really by altered simply by identifying a problem. To succeed you need some follow through. Will power does play a role but habit is far more powerful and can be easily put into play even in the place of self determination.

The Nature of Habits

First we need to think about the nature of habits themselves. One area to consider is driving a car. What would it be like to have to think about the turn signal, foot brake, steering wheel and two mirrors every time we made a turn? Not only are we operating our vehicles through habit, but we are arriving at the same designations over and over again without giving much thought to the process.

We also do things around the house out of habit. Recently I moved into a house that had a sink with reversed hot and cold water faucets. I thought I would grow accustomed to the reversal rather quickly -- I was wrong. I would have been able to replace one habit with another if there had only been one sink in the house, however, it was not the only one and I admit I found myself in constant confusion when I was in front of this particular sink. I had to think instead of relying on habit.

I had another chance to witness the power of habit when I moved a dining room clock and replaced it with a picture. Because the clock had hung there for nine years, I found myself going to that picture to find out what time it was for several weeks after the change. Why did it take weeks? Because it's fairly common for a new habit to take four to six weeks to become second nature.

Now, that particular fact is actually the good news.

The Key to Success

The key to using habits to our advantage is to choose one -- and only one -- behavior to work on at a time. Identify one bad habit at a time in yourself (or your child) and then purposefully replace it with a good habit. We often make the mistake of tackling too many bad behaviors at one time. Success comes when we focus on one problem at a time. If you're working on changing habits in one of your children, it's best to approach the child, clearly state what the bad habit is and then explain how it will affect their future.

For example, if your teenage child prefers to sleep in rather than getting up at a decent time explain to him how this can affect his employment, college grades and ability to catch the bus on time. The goal is to get him to see why he would want to make a change. Make that your first and final lecture. With a view that the child has to exert himself toward the new habit, do not interfere when it isn't necessary. Help as inconspicuously as possible.

Habits ordinarily take about six weeks to take shape and become permanent. Then they are habitual and will not need additional work. After the bad habit has been replaced by a good habit you can target a new habit.

Consciously apply yourself to the new habit for a month and an half. Be consistent during that time frame and at the end of it you'll find you have a positive change that is now habitual. You won't need sheer will power and you won't find yourself wallowing in defeat because the power of habit is just that -- powerful.

Catherine Levison is a well-respected workshop presenter to parenting and educational audiences throughout the USA and Canada.
You can browse Catherine's newest book, "A Literary Education," by going to: Copyright Catherine Levison Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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