Our habits determine our life. The sum of small tasks and behaviors sustained daily shapes our existence.
When we talk about "personal transformation," we don't have to see this concept as something abstract, complex, esoteric, or magical, arising from a sudden unlocking that releases the energy of our chakras. Thinking about it this way is a veiled manner of absolving ourselves of the part that calls us.
The foundations of any personal transformation are made of renewed and beneficial habits that lead us to the version of ourselves we want to be or to the goals we want to achieve.
Without routines that keep us focused on what we want to achieve, it's impossible to attain it. Having new goals without new habits aimed at achieving them is like having a car without tires. Because our habits are the wheels that bring us closer to our goals.
Our brain, the organic bassis of a new habit
A habit is a cortical pathway. In other words, it's a trail that neurons follow in our brain to perform a specific task. An established habit is manifested in our brain following the typical sequence: A → B → C. This chain or succession, repeated many times, becomes easy and almost effortless. Just like when we learned to drive, it demanded a lot of attention at the beginning, but with practice and time, it became automatic, and we no longer had to think: "turn on, press the clutch, shift gears, accelerate."
Establishing a new habit is like opening a new path through the undergrowth. At first, it's challenging! It involves clearing the path, removing all the branches and leaves, and once it's cleared, walking through it repeatedly to settle it and make it last over time. Without a doubt, the essential ingredients for paving the way to a better quality of life through new habits are discipline, commitment, perseverance, and tolerance to frustration when we fail.
Our lazy brain resists change with all its might and always wants to go back to its old routines that required no effort. That's why it's crucial to accompany our intentions for change with patience and kindness, but with the firm determination not to leave any room for the old ways to sneak back in and take the central place.
Buddhist psychology tells us that rigidity and demands are enemies of transformation. Rigidity keeps us stuck in the same patterns, and demands frustrate and discourage us when we seek to change.
When we try to establish new healthy habits, instead of demanding, we should see ourselves as learners. Focus on the intention, the practice, doing our best, and persisting in our efforts, rather than being anxious to achieve a specific goal.
By concentrating on practicing in each moment, eventually, we will achieve our objectives because practice makes perfect. But before becoming masters, we need to be disciples of our own efforts.
It's about changing habits that improve our quality of life, not just reaching a specific result and then returning to the old ways once achieved. The time it takes to establish new habits is necessary to savor a new way of being and behaving.
Practices that facilitate establishing new habits in our lives.
To make a habit not only do you need to start it, but also sustain it. Otherwise, it will never become a habit; it will remain an isolated behavior with little impact on our lives.
It's essential to start with small challenges initially and gradually expand and refine them. Here are some steps that can help you on your journey of gifting yourself a life change that is beneficial:
Focus on one thing at a time:
At the beginning, we may want to make many changes all at once due to initial motivation. However, that won't be sustainable in the long run. Willpower is limited, so we need to know how to manage it. Trying to make radical changes all at once can be overwhelming. My advice is to concentrate on a specific goal (e.g., going for a walk, studying English for an hour, meditating, eating healthier, or researching things you want to pursue). The key is to repeat these behaviors daily. Once the first habit is well-established, then you can add a new one, and then another.
The behavior you want to establish must be concrete enough for you to measure if you are fulfilling it (e.g., am I studying for an hour every day? Am I going for a run for an hour each day? Am I meditating? Am I eating healthier?). The more specific the goal, the clearer the path to achieving it.
Anticipate your excuses:
Define a plan to follow, a routine with assigned time for each new behavior, and stick to that plan firmly. If you wake up each day and ask yourself, "Should I go for a run today or not?" chances are that when you don't feel like it, you'll abandon your routine. The decision needs to be made in advance, and your running shoes and clothes should be ready next to your bed. Decision-making demands a lot of energy from your brain, and it will naturally fight to return to old routines based on the least effort. We are all vulnerable, so anticipate your excuses and find solutions to each one of them before they convince you otherwise.
Reminders and cues:
Write motivating phrases, set reminder alarms, leave notes on the fridge and choose wallpapers and visual images that remind you of the habits you are working on. For example, if you want to stop living on autopilot, set an alarm on your phone that says, "Pause wherever you are, take a deep breath, and count to ten to be fully present." These consistent interruptions will gradually change how you go about your daily life.
Create a conducive environment:
Favor an atmosphere that facilitates the habits you are working on (e.g., if you want to eat healthier and have healthy snacks in your pantry for when you crave something, it will be easier for you to stick to it. If you want to establish a meditation habit and have a corner in your home with a cushion, incense, and the sound of water, it will be easier for you to take the time to be there). Also, remove from sight any objects, situations, stimuli, or people that don't align with the changes you want to achieve.
Setting up your environment to match the version of yourself you want to become demonstrates real commitment to the change you want to see.
A ritual carries strong emotional content and requires full attention. Transforming a habit into a ritual is connecting an activity to repetitive positive emotions. Ritualizing is following the same steps to carry out a behavior. Ritualizing is making an activity sacred that you want to incorporate. For example, every time I sit down to write, I take a bath, get comfortable, prepare a cup of tea, have some nuts on hand (which I enjoy eating), play the same instrumental music associated with this activity, and immerse myself in the experience. Writing is linked to a moment I enjoy in an atmosphere that pleases me and puts me in the best mindset. Similarly, every time I go for a run, I have a series of audio files downloaded on my phone that I find interesting to listen to. This way, the physical activity is associated with an interest that motivates me.
Associating activities with positive emotions helps anchor the routine and sustain it over time.
Monitor and analyze your progress:
Regularly review your progress. If you think you are doing well, take one step further in the desired direction. If you've failed too much, consider whether you truly choose that habit or if you need to replace it with something similar that is easier or more practical for you. The "why" of the habit is most important, and everyone finds their own ways of incorporating them.
Celebrate your achievements:
No matter how small they are, acknowledge your effort and willpower, and find ways to motivate yourself to keep going. You can reward yourself for achieving each goal. But pay attention! The rewards must align with your objectives. If you've successfully eaten healthier for a month, the reward can't be eating a three-story hamburger. It's clear, right?
When your habits speak of you, you feel inner coherence.
When you incorporate healthy habits, when you integrate sustained behaviors into your life that bring you closer to your goals and align with your values and principles, you begin to feel that your life is taking the desired direction. On the contrary, when you long for something and go in the opposite direction, you feel an internal inconsistency and self-betrayal that hijacks your inner peace.
Anxiety diminishes, and your relationship with yourself becomes much more friendly when your behaviors are appropriately oriented. You will feel more comfortable with the person you are striving to be each day. This is the secret of true personal transformation: the will, effort, and perseverance to choose over and over again what we know is good for us, whether we feel like it or not, whether we are lazy or full of vitality. Sustaining what is good for oneself over time is choosing health over illness.