Here's How to Build Better Habits for a Brighter Tomorrow

By Justin Bennett

There's a wise saying that goes like this:

We sow a thought and reap an act;

We sow an act and reap a habit;

We sow a habit and reap a character;

We sow a character and reap a destiny.

Opinions vary as to who came up with this proverb. Authorship aside, however, it makes a crucial point. Our destinies start with the actions we take moment by moment. Alter those actions and you can change the course of your life. Let's start with one of the most effective yet most overlooked insights.

Effects Start with Causes

Undesirable actions spring from specific triggers, a fact pointed out by Psychology Today. Let's say you're trying to quit smoking. Rather than just beating yourself up every time you have a cigarette, ask yourself what thought or event immediately precedes the urge to smoke. For example, you may find the desire comes upon you every time you feel uptight. In this case, stress is the cause that leads to the undesired effect.

Once you realize this fact, you can substitute a healthier way of calming down. Options may include taking a few deep breaths, meditating or walking around for a little bit. Doing so will loosen the bad habit's grip on your actions. Breaking it entirely will take time, but the results are well worth the investment.

Rewards Lead to Repetition

Most of us have heard the story of the curious child who wanted to know what touching a hot stove felt like. Over and over, his mother warned him not to do it until one day, exasperated, she said, "Go ahead; touch it and find out." The child never needed warning again.

No matter what you think of the mother's parenting skills, the account teaches a powerful truth: We do what makes us feel good and avoid what makes us feel bad. Hence, one key to building good habits is to reward yourself periodically. Here are some possible examples:

Did you finish your work today? Allow yourself a small dessert.

Did you avoid smoking all week? Buy yourself that new outfit you've had your eye on.

Did you go to the gym yesterday? Schedule a trip to the spa for your day off.

Another way to apply this principle is to make the desired action more pleasant all by itself. For example, do you find fitness walking unpleasant? Take your four-legged friend with you. Having your best buddy by your side can turn what seems like an arduous task into a fun adventure. This will lay a solid foundation for good exercise habits.

Negativity Is the Enemy

Nothing can derail positive habits like negative thinking. It dampens enthusiasm, inhibits needed action, and drives us to seek solace from unhealthy sources. You'll almost certainly face this persistent foe at some point in your self-improvement journey. Here's how to win the war against negativity:

Recognize it when it rears its ugly head. It's especially important to avoid confusing negativity with realism. Yes, you should look at a situation as it really is. But that's a different thing entirely than coloring your perceptions with defeatist thinking. Saying to yourself, "The doctor says I need to stop smoking entirely" is realistic. Adding, "So I might as well give up now" is the voice of your enemy.

Replace negative with positive. If you find yourself thinking, "I just can't lose 20 pounds," try this thought instead: "Reaching my goal will take time, but I can do it."

Adopt the long view. Spending all of your savings on a new sofa may make you happy in the short term, but only at the cost of long-term regret.

There's no better time than now to turn over a new leaf. Consider these tips to guide you going forward. You'll look back one day with well-earned pride at what you've accomplished.