From chronic lateness to compulsive impulse shopping, we all have habits we’d rather leave behind. Unfortunately, breaking old patterns and replacing them with better ones isn’t always as easy as it seems.
But don’t despair! Jen Sincero's new book - Badass Habits, published in 2020 will help you chart a new way forward. First, you’ll learn how unconscious biases, fears, and desires can leave you locked in established routines. Then you’ll get simple, straightforward advice on how to disrupt these entrenched habits and cultivate a new, more positive groove.
The three most powerful points I took from the book were;
To change your habits, change who you are. Strong boundaries are the foundation for strong habits.
New habits stick when they align with your true desires.
Establish your new habit with 21 days of concentrated effort. The goal of building good habits is to be the best version of yourself.
To change your habits, change who you are.
Meet Alice. At 30 years old, she realized she was in a toxic relationship. Not with a parent or a partner, but with sugar. Every time Alice indulged in sweets, she’d get terrible breakouts, worry about weight gain, and generally just feel awful. Something had to change. So she stopped buying and binging on snacks, sought advice from dietitians, and even watched documentaries demonizing sucrose.
These steps helped, but it always felt like she was one bad day away from slipping back into her old sugary ways. In the end, Alice had to change not just her actions but her whole identity. She had to become a person who simply didn’t eat sugar.
To put it simply, a habit is a routine, action, or behavior you engage in over and over again. Essentially, it’s what you do when running on autopilot. Habits can be positive patterns, like always putting on your seatbelt when driving, or destructive ones, like constantly misplacing keys, jewelry, or other valuables.
Habits work by connecting a trigger to a response, then connecting that response to a reward. Consider a habit like daily exercise. The trigger could be seeing your gym on the way home from work. The response would then be stopping in for 40 minutes of cardio. The rewards? The rush of endorphins and a feeling of accomplishment. Importantly, the more often you follow this sequence, the more automatic and ingrained it becomes.
Of course, you probably aren’t aware that the sequence is taking place; if you’re like most people, many of your habits are completely unconscious. So the first step in making any change to your routines is to identify them. To do that, reflect on your actions, as well as the thoughts and feelings associated with them. For someone like Alice, this meant looking at when sugar binges happen. Did stress trigger them? What reward did they offer?
Once you become aware of the sequences behind your habits, you can consciously alter them. This requires redefining your identity to fit the new habits you want. So Alice needed to stop seeing herself as a sugar-addicted ball of stress and instead cultivate an identity as a healthy, happy eater. Once you truly see yourself as a different person, your unconscious sequences will fall in line more easily.
Strong boundaries are the foundation for strong habits.
Let’s say that you’re fed up with starting the day in a sour mood. Rather than staying up late and waking up exhausted, you want to greet each morning with a smile and a full yoga session. You’re determined to become a morning person.
But then the world gets in the way. First, your boss asks you to come in early for an unimportant meeting. Then your friends keep you out all night bar hopping. By the time dawn rolls around, you’re more worn out and washed up than ever before. So much for being a morning person.
Of course, it didn’t have to be this way. You could have saved yourself the struggle by setting clear boundaries.
Building new habits is all about picking an identity and sticking to the actions and behaviors that that identity entails. This process requires that you, and no one else, remain in control of your time, energy, and emotions. If you always let outside forces influence how you act and feel, you’ll never stay true to the goal you’re pursuing. That’s why it’s essential to establish boundaries.
This means consciously deciding how to interact with the world around you. To do this, reflect on what limits you think are necessary to pursue your goals. Consider what you will and won’t do, what treatment you will and won’t accept from others, and what factors are actually in your control.
Oftentimes, you’ll find these barriers aren’t as defined as they should be. You may say yes to too much, or no to too little. For instance, if your goal is to become vegetarian, you probably shouldn’t accept an invitation to a barbecue restaurant. Maybe suggest a different spot instead. Or, if your aim is to stay more calm and centered, you should probably avoid getting caught up in the latest social media drama. Try logging off when necessary.
At the beginning, setting these new boundaries can be a challenge. It’s frightening to stand up for yourself when you’re used to going with the flow. A good way to practice is to start small. Instead of confronting difficult colleagues right away, try being firm in a few low-stakes situations first. Say no to pushy salesmen or cut short conversations with annoying neighbors. You may find that enforcing boundaries is more fun than you expect.
New habits stick when they align with your true desires.
Imagine you get a call from a friend. She’s got big news, she says: her dog just had a surprise litter of puppies! So of course you drop everything to meet the new pups. As you watch the adorable fur balls play, she asks if you’d like to adopt one. Now, on one hand, your logical brain knows a pet is a big responsibility. You’ll have to walk it and feed it and take it to the vet. You’re already busy, so that’s a big effort. But, on the other hand, that tiny puppy is so cute.
In the end, you take a deep breath and decide to take on the responsibility. It’s not even that scary, since you’re motivated by true desire. Adopting new habits works the same way. You’re more likely to step up to a challenge when you follow your heart.
Take a moment to write down a list of habits you’d like to develop or change. This could be anything from eating healthier to daily meditation to calling your parents more often. Now, consider why you’ve chosen these habits. Sure, there’s a logical reason for each – intellectually, you know that a balanced diet brings many benefits – but there’s probably something deeper at play as well.
The truth is, your actions are driven by both rational thought and emotional energy. Any new practice is more likely to become routine and automatic when you’re motivated by both reason and passion. Think about it: you’re not going to start eating salad every day just because you read about the benefits of leafy greens. You’ll do it because you’re emotionally attached to the idea of a better, healthier you.
Focusing on these deeper desires is often more effective than fixating on the actual habits themselves. So when you’re choosing which habits to pursue, it’s important to pick ones that are actually connected to who you want to be. Close your eyes and imagine your ideal self. Does your new habit help get you there? If not, it’s going to be extremely difficult to stick to it.
Pursuing your ideal self isn’t always easy. Sometimes, slipups and setbacks can make you doubt that you really want a new habit. It’s important to remember that these things happen. You’ll sometimes get sidetracked, even if you truly want something.
Establish your new habit with 21 days of concentrated effort.
Okay, you know where habits come from and how they connect to your true desires. And you’ve probably already selected which habit you’re ready to commit to as your goal. Now, it’s time to make this dream a reality. How long should that take – a month? A year? How about 21 days. While it’s true that everyone is different and some habits are picked up more easily than others, about three weeks is a good rule of thumb. If you can keep to your new routine for this length of time, there’s a good chance it’ll become second nature.
If that still seems like a daunting task, don’t worry. Just take it one day at a time. There are even a few helpful tricks to help lighten the load. It’s best to start your 21-day sprint to a new you by setting a mantra. On the first day of your new routine, think of a few positive statements that reaffirm your desires. For instance, if you’re trying to quit smoking, your mantra might be, I love my pink, healthy lungs. Whenever you start doubting your intentions or abilities, repeat this mantra to refocus your effort.
Next, keep track of your progress and give yourself rewards. Sticking to a habit is much easier when you acknowledge every small success. Make a ritual of it. Every time you complete your new routine, mark your calendar with a special pen or sticker, and then indulge in something positive you enjoy. Did you complete your daily workout? Maybe treat yourself to your favorite TV show. Just don’t let your reward cancel your efforts – don’t celebrate your diet with an extra slice of cake.
After the first couple of days, your focus may be waning. So take steps to smooth out the process. Anticipate and eliminate any triggers that may throw you off track. Trying to stop drinking? Definitely don’t keep beer in the fridge. Alternatively, make your habit more effortless by planning for success. Trying to exercise each morning? Make sure you always have a gym bag packed and ready to go the night before.
And remember, keep a positive attitude and be grateful for your success. Whenever you’re struggling, remind yourself how far you’ve come. If you mess up or miss a day, don’t fall into despair. Instead, acknowledge the mistake and redouble your efforts. Developing a new habit isn’t easy, but keep trying, and it will happen.
The goal of building good habits is to be the best version of yourself.
Flip through a few old photo albums or scroll back through your social media feed. What do you see? Sure, there’ll be some high points. Maybe pictures of you winning an award, celebrating a graduation, or just looking really good before a night out.
But there are probably some other types of moments in there as well; snapshots of you goofing off, for example, looking a bit too tipsy, or making fashion choices you’d like to forget. Don’t hit delete on those awkward moments. They’re part of you – and you should accept them, not erase them.
Remember: cultivating new habits is about self-improvement, not being perfect. So as you strive to be your ideal self, treat yourself with compassion, and don’t forget the things that make you happy
Sometimes, setting your sights on self-improvement can make you overlook the important things in life. You may become so fixated on eating healthy, hitting the gym, and maintaining the perfect sleep schedule that you forget to see your friends, indulge in your old hobbies, or have any fun at all. But what good is optimizing your life at the expense of actually living it?
As you work through your 21 days of habit-forming, remember why you’ve chosen to improve your habits in the first place. The goal isn’t to become a perfect machine, but to create positive routines that allow you to be more of who you are. Yes, you’re exercising or eating right to stay fit, but you’re really building a healthier life so you’re more able to share good times with loved ones.
So even as you work on establishing new patterns, always honor your authentic self. Continue loving what you love, laughing at what you find funny, and forgiving yourself for your small flaws and foibles. Not every rough edge to your personality or wrinkle in your daily routine needs to be smoothed out. Sometimes those tiny quirks are what make you who you are.
Most importantly, treat yourself with compassion. Our culture sometimes puts too much emphasis on perfection and success. It can give you unrealistic aspirations or shame you for being satisfied with your own life. So, in the end, the most crucial habit you can form is learning to love yourself.
What I took from it.
Habits are the unconscious behaviors and routines which shape our daily lives. Some of our habits are good, while others are less than stellar. To cultivate a new habit, you have to truly identify on a logical and emotional level with the new routine. Don't just aim to exercise; start thinking of yourself as a healthy, active person. If you can stick to your new habit for 21 days, it’ll start to become an automatic, integral part of your life.
Create new habits by making old ones impossible. Sometimes, the best way to curtail an undesirable behavior is to replace it with a new one. For instance, if you're trying to stop biting your nails, don’t just quit. Try adding a new routine as well, like getting weekly manicures. If you always have a flashy new set of nails, you’ll be more inclined to avoid gnawing on them.