Mastering the Art of Habits: How to Create Lasting Positive Change

by Dr. Sue Varma

The anatomy of a habit is a fascinating journey that begins with intention—a desire to change something. As a psychiatrist, I often witness the profound impact of this journey on individuals striving to enhance their well-being. It’s a journey that any of us can take–and should take–when we are looking to make a lasting change. And you don’t need me by your side to do it; you can do it on your own. It involves decision-making, crafting action plans, and eventually reaching a state of automation where positive changes become second nature.

In my practice, I emphasize the interconnectedness between emotions, attitudes, behaviors, and the habits that shape our lives. Habits are the silent architects of our health. They’re the threads weaving through the fabric of our daily routines, determining the course of our lives. As much as external factors play a role, habits account for 80 percent of our health. We’re more in control of our destiny than we often realize.

The Secret To A Good Habit? Eliminating Choice

While my job often requires me to help people make life-changing decisions or simply/not-so-simply take action on a long overdue choice. When it comes to forming habits, choice is the adversary of a lasting change. It leaves room for whim, willpower, and the unpredictability of various factors. Take the habit of exercise, for instance. If the decision to work out is negotiable, influenced by energy levels or mood, it becomes vulnerable. I encourage making positive actions non-negotiable, removing the element of choice. Habits, after all, override whim and willpower.

Bad Habits

Bad habits are not just the result of poor choices; they often stem from the absence of a habit or a deeply ingrained routine that needs redirection. Recognizing this as a psychiatrist, I guide individuals in understanding the cues and triggers that lead to these habits. Mindfulness and discipline play a crucial role in bringing these habits under conscious control. It’s about creating boundaries, introducing obstacles, and anticipating vulnerabilities.

Step By Step Towards A Good Habit

I emphasize narrowing the attainability gap in guiding my clients toward cultivating positive habits. I understand the importance of making habits achievable and realistic, especially in the initial stages. Positive emotional associations are essential, and journaling becomes a powerful tool for reinforcing the benefits of new habits.

Moreover, leveraging cues and building contingency plans are strategies I often recommend. Associating the new habit with a specific time or place helps create a routine. And, of course, making it enjoyable by involving friends as exercise buddies can significantly influence habit formation.

Maintaining Habits

Maintaining good habits is a holistic process that involves short and long-term goals, support systems, and the infusion of novelty and challenge. In my practice, I encourage clients to continuously set clear objectives, define success, and celebrate wins. Introducing novelty and challenges keeps the journey exciting, preventing the stagnancy that can lead to abandoning positive habits.

Accountability is crucial, and I encourage you to think in terms of step-wise goals, ensuring growth and success at every stage of your habit-building journey.

Habit-building is a profound opportunity for conscious self-shaping. Understanding the intricate dance between intention, decision-making, and automated actions empowers individuals to lead healthier, purposeful lives. Habit creation is a transformative journey, a lifelong endeavor that defines the essence of who we are.