You have probably heard that it takes forty-two days to change a habit. Twenty-one to dislodge the old habit and another twenty-one days to instill a new one. Hundreds or perhaps thousands or millions of people have struggled with changing an unwanted habit into a new wanted one, and it took them forty-two days to accomplish that change. Did it really take all that time to make a new habit or were they only following the tried and true thought pattern passed down to them?
To answer that question we need to understand what a habit really is and how it works. Once we get the answers to the “what” and “how” of habits you will see you can make a new habit or lose an old one in a matter of minutes with little conscious effort. We are creatures of habit, and that is a good thing. We can get up in the morning and move fairly easily through a myriad of repetitive motions throughout the day, all based on habits we have learned and instilled for our convenience. One activity we use throughout our lives is the way we interpret the world around us. Our perception of reality and the tools we use to understand reality is relatively constant throughout our lives, unless. Unless we change the way we perceive our surroundings.
Robin Williams was a genius at looking at the world differently nd when we saw what he saw we laughed. Not because what we saw was funny, but because, at some level, we understood how he made us see things differently. It was that different point of view that made us laugh. It was the Ah-ha moment and the surprise that tickled our funny bone. In a word, Robin Williams violated our background expectancy, and the result changed our perception too.
Now, back to habits. What is a habit and how can we look at it differently and make rapid changes? I would suggest that a habit is nothing more than an unconscious response to a thought. That’s it! That is the different perspective on whatever you thought a habit was. We can change or remove unwanted habits by having a conscious response to a thought. Once the response, even if it is the habit response becomes conscious then, by definition, it is no longer a habit, but rather a choice to invoke the old response or chose another.
Let’s look at an example of a smoker. A circumstance arises that invoke a thought, “I need a smoke.” The concomitant unconscious reaction (habit) it to get a cigarette and smoke it. But, if we make the reaction conscious when the thought “I need a smoke” is thought we can made the decision to have a smoke (habit response) or replace that reaction with “Maybe a glass of water is healthier.” Even if the smoker chooses to follow the unconscious reaction that reaction is no longer unconscious because the choice to follow it was conscious.
Okay, that may sound convoluted, but what has happened is that the person has moved the unconscious reaction into the realm of conscious behavior and now has a choice to follow or not follow the habit path. Once that happens the habit is no longer an active participant in life behaviors.