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How Do I Form a Good Habit?

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Question: How Do I Form a Good Habit?
Answer: Making a good habit is the same as making a bad habit. The brain is amoral when it comes to habits. It does not care if it is good or bad. All it knows is that the habit action is routinely performed so it would benefit from an improved neurological pathway for more efficient processing.

Creating a habit is easy. And that can cause you a lot of problems. Since habits form so easily, you need to make sure you are doing “good” things when you create it.

To form a habit all you need to do is repeat the activity. With enough repetitions it becomes a habit. A habit can be formed in as little as 10 days, depending on the amount of repetition. The more you do it after the habit is formed, the more reinforcement you give to that habit and the stronger it becomes.

You can make the process easier if the habit activity has some good rewards associated to it. A good work out is often rewarded with endorphins; a good study session gets you a better grade. But the reward does not make it a habit. That comes with repetition and the neurological pathway.

To form a good habit, as opposed to a bad habit, it helps to structure the habit-forming process:

Understand What a Habit Is

It is always important to know what you are getting into. Knowing what a habit is can ensure you set up your good habit without any glitches.

Know What You Want to Make a Habit

Here is where morality or ethics come into play. What makes this habit good? Will it really benefit me in a positive way and how will it do that?

Example: I want to learn to play the flute. An appreciation of music will make me a better person and I will enjoy exploring my musicianship.

Know the Proper Way to Perform That Activity

This is where you can get into some problems. A small thing over a long period of time can have some massive unintended consequences. If you have gotten into the habit of dropping your shoulder during your forehand on the tennis court you may be in trouble –- less accuracy, repetitive stress injuries of the shoulder, back pain.

Example: After six years of study with inadequate instructors my new flute teacher noticed my embouchure is crooked. This is why I don’t sound as good as I should. I have gone as far as I can unless I take the next year to completely break it down and relearn it the right way.

Provide Incentives

Habits are best formed when they are rewarding. It gives you something to work towards before the habit is formed. Unconscious rewards are the best (like a better forehand smash), but if it they are not available invent some.

Example: I love the sound of the flute so I enjoy my practice sessions even more when I improve my embouchure.

Schedule the Habit Forming Process

Perform the habit activity over a 2 to 4 weeks. Two weeks should establish the habit and an additional two weeks will provide good reinforcement strength. Ensure you repeat the habit activity at least 3 times a week, daily is better. Make sure there are no disruptions from the schedule.

After the habit is formed, you can skip a session, take a break for vacation, or even stop the activity for years and it will still easily come back to you upon request.

Example: I have not played my flute for five years. I pulled it out the other day and it was just like riding a bike (another habit). I am not as good as I use to be, but I was not that far from it.

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