How to create powerful habits according to the experts

We all want good habits but struggle to stick to them. Like New Year’s resolutions, we start off well intentioned and motivated only to give up a few days or weeks later.

According to the experts, the reasons people fail to create habits are for the following reasons: they don’t really believe in the habit; they underestimate the power of habit creation; they don’t make the habits automatic; they start too big; they don’t anchor them; they don’t make them pleasurable; and they are impatient.

Believe in the habit

Since the age of 14, I drank black coffee. It became my personal theme, my identity. After all, one of my favorite songs was “Black Coffee” by Ella Fitzgerald.

I would start the day with an entire four-cup Italian Moka pot of black espresso. The day would continue with more black coffees and espressos: 9am, 11am, after lunch at 1pm, and at around 4pm for a pick-me-up. The daily total was 8 servings of 90 to 120mg of caffeine.

For years, I had suspected that coffee might be the cause of some of my anxiety, intestinal troubles and weight gain, but whenever I spoke to friends and acquaintances about quitting coffee, they would say:

“But coffee is good for you!”

“Coffee has so many anti-oxidants.”

“You have to keep at least one vice.”

“I could never live without my morning coffee.”

“You’re being a perfectionist.”

Researching the benefits of giving up coffee, I found just as many websites touting the benefits of coffee as its dangers. Many doctors were cited as saying that up to five coffees per day was okay. And I figured since I was drinking little black espressos, like the Italians, that they only counted as half. The only voice of reason was my son, who was adamant about my quitting. Suffice to say, I ignored him.

Then, nearly two months ago, I said to my personal trainer Caryn that I often felt acidic, nauseous and tired and that this caused me to snack in between meals. I was trying to lose those last 10 pounds and the weight was not budging. My gut felt bloated and sore. I thought I might have Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

“If someone told me that coffee was ruining my life, I would quit,” I said.

Caryn looked at me and without a pause, she said.

“It is ruining your life."

I looked at her, and said: “Really?”

“Yes! You have tried everything else to feel better,” she said. “Your exercise regimen couldn’t be better. Your meals are super healthy. Your coffee is all that’s left.”

That day, I quit coffee with one little relapse a week later that brought the nausea and acidity back.

Now, I have more energy. I am less anxious. I sleep better. I no longer feel like I have to snack to get rid of nausea. My gut is improving and flat. And, I can resist those cravings for carbohydrates in the evenings. I have lost four and half pounds or two kilos without changing my meals. I now believe that coffee was bad for me and was ruining my life.

In the book Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey show how beliefs and mind-sets—aka immunities—can prevent important changes from happening. According to research they cite, only one in seven heart patients actually make the habit changes necessary to save their lives. Why? All seven have a desire to keep on living. So, why do the six not change? The answer lies in their belief system.

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