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The Habits That Transform Us

"Sow an act...reap a habit; Sow a habit...reap a character; Sow a character...reap a destiny."

We all have habits. We try to kick and break our bad ones, and form and reinforce those that are good. We have habitual ways of eating. Ever try to eat using your non-dominant hand? We have habitual ways of driving. Ever start driving to work on your day off before you realized you were supposed to be going someplace else? We use words in a habitual way, we make decisions in a habitual way, and we have habits that affect when we eat, go to bed, and get up. We have routine ways of thinking, acting, perceiving, and focusing that we tend not to be aware of at a conscious level. The habitual manners in which we interact and engage with our world have been built up over time, and most are ingrained to such a great extent that our behavior is usually on autopilot. 

A habit defined, is actually just a pattern that has been developed through repetition. Have you ever heard the term “repetition is the mother of skill” or “practice makes perfect?” As a patterned habit is reinforced, it becomes ingrained deeper and deeper into our subconscious. I once heard one of my favorite coaches remark that in order for an action to become “natural” it takes a minimum of 1,000 repetitions to pattern it in our muscle memory, or super consciousness. It is the continued repetition of any action or thought that makes that specific action or thought increasingly natural. This is why habits are hard for some people to recognize and difficult for them to alter. There’s a saying, “good habits are hard to develop and easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to develop and hard to live with.” The bottomline is, doing things in a habitual manner is both essential toward our personal development and a critical element in our deficiency for success.

The more habitual our daily routines and activities become the less thought and energy we need to use to achieve them. Then we can devote more energy, focus and brainpower to new projects, skills and achievements. For example; when writing, creative expression can be restrained if you have to concentrate on your typing skills. In another light, by mastering the basic skills of driving a car to the point where it is automatic, you are able to concentrate on conversations with your passengers, study a subject through audiobooks, or relax and enjoy music. This can all be done without compromising your focus simply because the energy you would use to concentrate on the mechanical actions of operating your vehicle are automatic from years of practice. In many activities, such as sports and martial arts, the more automatic one’s skills and responses are the more effective the practitioner will be. 

Let’s take a closer look at the structure we use as we learn. The process of learning a skill is for the most part gradual and repetitious as we pass through four evolving levels of competence.

The first level is known as “unconscious incompetence.” This is the primary stage where you have no foundation. You are totally unaware that you lack a certain skill or ability. I’m going to use an experience I had to illustrate this structure of learning and development. I remember standing in front of the local YMCA waiting for my workout partner watching a ten year old playing with a hacky-sack. This kid noting my curiosity asked me if I wanted to play. Now, I consider myself a highly competent elite level coach and athlete, with several Blackbelts (eight) and above average coordination. 

So...I thought to myself, I can do this…how hard can it be? With certainty, I replied, “Sure!” He kicked the “Sack” to me and it rolled off my foot. I picked it up confidently and failed miserably at my second and third attempt. Astonished, I experienced the first level of the learning process, “unconscious incompetence!” In what appeared to be a nanosecond, I swiftly vaulted to the second level. The second level is known as “conscious incompetence.” At this level, you lack a particular skill or ability, but know it. You are conscious of your lack of skill. You may even want the desired skill very badly, yet are not able or prepared to invest the time necessary to move beyond this level. The third level is “conscious competence.” This is the level where you are well aware of you ability and also proficient at it, as in the case of the 10-year-old hacky-sack buff. The final stage is “unconscious competence”, a level where you do whatever it is in a state of flow, without the struggle of conscious thought to impede your forward direction. You respond naturally in an excellent fashion. You perform as you are at that moment, a skilled technician without reflection. This is the state that every great musician, athlete, technician, etc. must reach to be exceptional. You just do it! 

It would seem that the more aware we are of our undesirable habits. The more likely we are to adjust or change our unproductive habits and cultivate our positive, more desirable habits, or are we? Approximately 95 percent of everything you do is determined by your habits, whether they be good or bad. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten. In other words, if you’re not getting the results you want, change your approach. Your ultimate goal is to create and practice good habits that will then function on their own to improve your quality of life and direct you toward success.

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit."

There are various ways to alter and extinguish habits that detract from your quality of life. Regardless of what you do to alter a negative habit you must have three essential base principles present. 

1) You must have adequate leverage to make you need to change. 
People will not change their habits unless there is some type of self-retribution that will occur and that is more painful than the continuing habit. You will always find the how, if you have a big enough why. There has to be some type of major pain connected with continuing the action, that unbalances the pleasure of the action.

2) You need to consciously develop and use some type of Pattern Interruption.
This is in itself also a form of habit used to break another habit. Consider for a moment the common rubber band. Sitting in the drawer, it looks rather unimpressive, but put it on your wrist and you’re looking at an ingenious tool for transformation. Choose an undesirable habit you wish to change, and prepare to take action! Every time the bad habit or behavior rears it’s ugly head, simply pull back the elastic disciplinary aid and let it SNAP! Once a bright red welt begins to rise on the inside of your wrist, you will begin to see results. At the moment you feel the snap, compound the interruption by saying something like, “that’s not me”, “I’m more than that” or even just “NO”, “erase”, “delete”. Be sure to use emotion in your statement. This will help to connect with your subconscious. Now, to avert this from a sadistic act to a productive one, you must move to the third KEY…

3) You absolutely must support your action with an alternative, i.e. a positive behavioral change.
The old, undesirable habit is now given a replacement, a positive, desirable habit. The rubber band is a simple, yet effective pattern interrupter used by thousands. Not surprisingly, the deeper the pattern, the more interruptions or repetitions of the interruption might be necessary. Also not surprising, the pattern interrupt may be more effective if it is, well….. more intrusive or painful. In order to be successful, it may be necessary to perform the pattern interrupt and a mindful habit replacement a few times until you achieve results. Once you begin to see improvements, try using just the disciplinary self-talk or even visualizing the interruption program in your mind’s eye. If you find yourself slipping back into your old behavior, run the program again to reinforce your changes.

Unleash The Power Of Your Mind!
Best of success,
Kevin Seaman