Everyone has bad habits, at work and at home. We allow ourselves to fall into them bit by bit, almost imperceptibly at the beginning, until they begin to have an unwanted effect on our behavior. When we try to get rid of them, however, we usually take an all or nothing approach.
We try to stop the habit cold turkey. But this seldom works. In fact, it may even make matters worse because our failure to reform our behavior can lead to anger and depression.
To lose a habit, some psychologists suggest, we need to mimic the way we acquired the habit to begin with, little by little. We need to take it one small step at a time. This is much easier to do than trying to stop the habit all at once. Each small action we take successfully and consistently gives us a successful outcome, which builds confidence. As we continue with our small, incremental changes, we build momentum as well.
In fact, some psychologists argue that small acts of self-discipline, such as making your bed in the morning, can have positive effects that spill over into other behaviors and lead to big changes in our lives. These small actions, like the bed making, have been labeled keystone actions.
There are many examples of how making small changes can yield big effects. In one study, university students were surveyed about small actions they took to change their behavior, and what resulted. Some, for example, began getting up in the morning just 10 minutes earlier. This one small action had big ripple effects. When the students woke up earlier, they had time to eat breakfast, givng them more energy and alertness. Because of this, their class attendance improved and they got better grades, which also helped to increase their self confidence.
The students reported that it took several weeks for them to begin noticing the changes that resulted from their small, initial action. Most had continued with their new habit for an average of about nine months and said they were likely to continue. It appeared that making just these little changes, requiring little time and effort, led to new habits and positive big changes as well.