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Six ways to change any habit and become successful at anything

“Tell me what you do all day, and I’ll tell you who you are.” -Someone really successful, probably

Success in life tends to be associated with big, one-time things- the big project you complete, the extreme crash diet you go on for two weeks, the big product launch.

This is a huge mistake. Successful people know better.

In fact, success in all areas of life has far more to do with the little things you do habitually- like eating a healthy breakfast, completing your biggest task at the beginning of the day, or always double-checking your work when you finish.

You are the sum of your habits. And if you learn how habits work how to change them, you can become successful at anything.

How habits work

You probably think of a habit as being a thing you do. In fact, habits have four components, of which the thing you do is only one.

First there’s a cue, an event which signals you to engage in the habit.

Then there’s a routine- a behavior you perform in response to the cue.

After the routine comes a reward. It can be just about anything, from tangible things like food, to intangibles like amusement or a feeling of accomplishment.

And driving this cycle is an underlying craving, which determines why you value the reward.

Together these components form the habit loop. Here’s an example that most of us are guilty of:

Source: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Creating or eliminating a craving can be done, but not quickly or easily. However the other three elements of the habit loop provide ample opportunity for quick and lasting change; the following five techniques can allow you to permanently change any habit in as little as a week.

1. Cue suppression

One way to deal with a bad habit is to simply prevent the cue for that habit from ever occurring. For instance, when I was constantly being distracted from my work by Tinder messages from college girls (what can I say, Bali is a fun place), I turned off my phone.

Think about what sets off some of your bad habits- do you get distracted by phone notifications and email popups? Do you eat junk food when you feel hungry? Is there a way to prevent the cue for that habit from ever happening in the first place?

2. Routine disabling

A second approach to eliminating bad habits focuses on the routine, rather than the cue. Simply put, you make it impossible to engage in the routine.

As an example, if you tend to waste time on the internet when you should be working (*cough* reddit), you can use a tool like Freedom to block yourself from accessing certain websites- or the entire internet- for a certain amount of time.

Or if you want to cut back on junk food, you could simply stop keeping any junk food around. If none is available, you’ll stop snacking- or start snacking on healthier food instead.

3. Cue piggybacking

If you want to build a new, positive habit, the first thing you need is a cue for that habit. The thing is, you don’t want to build a cue from scratch- making that cue happen would be a whole new habit in itself.

Instead, you should use something that already happens as the cue for your new habit. For instance, you could brush your teeth the first time you set foot in the bathroom every morning, or write a line of code every time you sit down at your desk.

The best example I’ve ever seen of someone putting this tactic into action came from a reader of mine. She wanted to get more exercise, so she did two minutes of bodyweight exercise every time she went to the bathroom. She ended up losing thirty pounds in three months.

4. Aversion therapy

Aversion therapy is another tactic for eliminating bad habits that focuses on the routine is aversion therapy. Whereas routine disabling makes the routine impossible, aversion therapy makes the routine suck.

What you do is pair the routine with an unpleasant stimulus so that the two become linked in your mind. For instance, you could smoke while listening to Nickelback, or give yourself painful electric shocks whenever you browse distracting websites at work.

Me watching a Nickelback music video.

5. Chaining

A more advanced version of cue piggybacking, chaining allows you to combine several good habits into one mega-habit by stringing them together in quick succession. Here’s how it’s done:

First, pick a good habit that you already engage in readily, or build one using cue piggybacking.

Second, create a new good habit using cue piggybacking. The twist: use the completion of the first habit as the cue to begin the second habit.

Third, repeat step two several times, until you have several good habits that you’re doing in succession.

For instance, you could chain together getting out of bed, making the bed, brushing your teeth, doing a short bodyweight workout, and checking your email first thing in the morning.

Or, you could chain checking your email, sending an email to someone in your network, and completing half a page of writing.

By chaining together several habits that take about one to five minutes each, you can create 20–30 minute sessions of extreme productivity. With a few such sessions per day, you can get more done in two hours than most people do in eight.

6. Routine substitution

So now you know how to create a new habit, or get rid of an old one- but what if you want to do both at the same time? That’s where routine substitution comes in. As the name suggest, routine substitution consists of inserting a new routine into an existing habit, in place of the existing routine.

For instance, suppose that when you get hungry or bored, you tend to snack on cookies out of the pantry. You could replace the cookies with carrots and celery, so that you consume both less sugar and more vegetables.

Routine substitution is easiest to do when you take steps to clear the old routine out of the way. Therefore, it works best in combination with either routine disabling or aversion therapy.

If you want to really take things to the next level (you do, don’t you), you can combine this with chaining to replace one or more bad habits with a whole slew of good ones. For instance, you can replace browsing entertainment sites with reading an educational article that’s relevant to your niche. Then, start chaining more habits to that one- after reading an article, you could do some writing, then answer emails, and then do two minutes of bodyweight exercises. The possibilities are endless.

Start changing your life today

If you want to change a habit- whether that’s to stop snacking, stop procrastinating, be more positive, or get twice as much work done every week- you’ll want my free Habit Change Cheat Sheet. Pick ONE habit to change, and using the cheat sheet, make that your focus for the next week.

Click here to get the guide right now.

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