3 habits that are hard to adopt, but could change your life

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Maybe you’ve heard the myth that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.

The truth is it takes much longer.  

On average, it’s more like 2-3 months. And even then, it depends on the habit.

Some studies found it took up to 254 days. Because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

The reality is that some habits are simply much harder to instill in us. But that doesn’t mean they’re not worth it.

In this article, we’ll check out a few that don’t come easy but may just change your life.

1) Optimism

You might argue that optimism is an outlook, not a habit. Yet the framework of thinking positively can absolutely be shaped into a habit.

It’s not easy because we are hardwired for negativity. It’s a survival tool.

We are programmed to be on the constant lookout for threats and danger everywhere. So if we want to flip the script, we have to do some neurological rewiring.

Because the good news is that we can mold our brains to how we want them to perceive. But of course, that takes time and persistence.

Unsurprisingly, we don’t create new neural pathways overnight.

However, teaching your brain to consistently reach for positive thoughts does create mental habits. After enough time, this becomes your automatic response.

But first, we have to bring awareness to when our pessimistic and negative thinking comes up. Then we have to consciously change it.

That means:

  • Cutting off your own mental complaining and naysaying
  • Answering back fearful thought patterns
  • Looking for the silver lining in seemingly tough situations
  • Reminding yourself of the good things you have going for you in life
  • Letting go of the things you cannot control instead of dwelling on it

I know firsthand how all of this is easier said than done. It took me decades to turn myself from a glass-half-empty to a glass-half-full person.

But it’s been one of the most significant shifts in the overall quality of my life.

Don’t take my word for it, the research backs this up too.

Optimism has been shown to build resilience, reduce stress, bolster your immune system, and even make you live longer.

Optimism makes us happier, healthier, and more successful. Because when you expect the best, you are far more likely to not only find it but create it.

2) Mindfulness

The habits on our list may be a bit tricky to achieve, but one good thing is that they complement one another.

Meaning that as you practice one, you are simultaneously strengthening another.

One thing that can help you with your optimistic attitude is mindfulness. Because most of the stuff we suffer about isn’t happening right now.

We’re worrying about the future, or hurting about the past.

So it makes sense that we cut out a whole lot of misery for ourselves as soon as we can bring our attention to the here and now.

It’s a startlingly simple concept. Yet one that’s so flipping hard to actually do.

Because as soon as you try, one second later your chatterbox brain likes to jump in with a train of thought to try to carry you away from the task at hand.

It gets even harder when we start loading up the act of mindfulness with expectations.

We quickly become frustrated and think we’re not doing it right.

But the voice in the back of your head who notices you “aren’t doing it right” is the mindful observer. Meaning you are being mindful.

If you realize something, you are bringing awareness to it. And that is the root of what mindfulness is — simply paying attention.

Mindfulness isn’t about being a wise Budha who unlocks all the answers to the Universe. It’s just about consciously paying attention on a deeper level to what’s going on around you.

You can try it through:

  • Meditation
  • Breathwork
  • Walking in nature (paying attention to sights, sounds, and smells you encounter)
  • Body scans (paying attention to sensations and feelings in your body)
  • Mindful movements like yoga
  • Observation (really looking around you and taking things in)

Mindfulness has a powerful effect on our system. It can induce relaxation, improve mental clarity, reduce rumination, and generally make you more conscious about how you think.

Considering 99.9% of our problems aren’t happening right now, it’s obvious why that can be so life-changing.

3) Cutting out (or down on) your social media use

A lot of the way we live our lives these days is pretty much the enemy of mindfulness.

Because the opposite of paying attention is distraction. And that’s exactly what so much of modern-day entertainment caters to.

I’m not going to sit here and bash technological advancement.

I love being able to call my mum for free in another country. I enjoy bingeing my favorite show on a rainy Saturday.

Just like everything in life, there are upsides and downsides. It’s about how you use them.

But there’s no denying that some are very destructive. Countless research studies have warned of the dangers lurking within social media.

Sure, it can be a bit of fun, but as pointed out by professor of medical psychology at Columbia University, Claude Mellins:

“Social media can also provide platforms for bullying and exclusion, unrealistic expectations about body image and sources of popularity, normalization of risk-taking behaviors, and can be detrimental to mental health.”

The crazy thing is we know it, but we can’t seem to break the habit.

One study noted that users regretted at least some part of their social media use in 60% of sessions and regretted all their use in nearly 40% of sessions.

Often we turn to social media to help us avoid uncomfortable emotions, whether that’s boredom, stress, loneliness, etc.

It becomes a pacifier to self-soothe rather than sit with those feelings.

You probably know it’s a drain on your life, but you still don’t cut it out.

Because it is designed to make you miss the validation, attention, and window into other people’s lives.

People who have managed to kick it to the curb, report being happier for having done so.

In the words of one former user speaking to the Washington Post about why he cast social media out of his life:

“Addiction is the most interesting of diseases because it’s a disease that convinces you that you don’t have a disease, right?”

Final thoughts

Here’s what often isn’t said enough about personal development:

It’s hard work.

If it were really just about making time for bubble baths and scented candles, then the world would already be a far better place.

But when we want to truly change ourselves and our lives we have to make sacrifices and put some sweat and tears into it.

Yet the biggest efforts usually yield the greatest rewards.

Louise Jackson

My passion in life is communication in all its many forms. I enjoy nothing more than deep chats about life, love and the Universe. With a masters degree in Journalism, I’m a former BBC news reporter and newsreader. But around 8 years ago I swapped the studio for a life on the open road. Lisbon, Portugal is currently where I call home. My personal development articles have featured in Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, Thrive Global and more.

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