I want to take the final weeks of this year to revisit some of my previous posts and update them with new material. In a previous post, I wrote about forming the habit of reading, thanking people, and sending short emails to all my friends and colleagues around Christmas time to keep in touch. These habits allowed me to be invited to deliver seminars in different countries and establish new scientific collaborations. In this updated post, I want to share with you a habit which I finally I mastered: decreasing, not eliminating, my worries and fears.
When I started writing this post, I decided to examine my life retrospectively and pin a habit which has helped me a lot through the years. I asked myself which habits I had developed during my early years in graduate school that made my life easier and produced a high impact effect years later. In order to choose the habit, it needed to be one developed during graduate school that I did not have before.
After much thought and deep thinking, I came to the realization that my habit of decreasing my worries and controlling my fear was life-changing. When I was in college (undergraduate), the amount of worries I had paralyzed me, causing me to be sick almost every month. These worries consumed my health and mind so much that I could not see the future. My days were filled with fear and lack of sleep – in fact my eyes were surrounded with blueish color. I started seeking help by talking to a friend of mine in college.
Thinking that he would sympathize with me, I was astounded by my friend’s opposite reaction. As soon as I told him about my fears, he got very angry with me. I was puzzled! I did not know at that time that anxiety and worries are like a contagious disease, and my friend was worried that he might become infected! He advised me not to think like that, and told me that he wasn’t interested in listening to this again. This was a lesson which I could not understand until years later. Worries and fear are contagious, and if you have them, try very hard not to share them with people who are not strong enough to help you.
Fast forward to my graduate school years, I had to deal with high caliber fear – failed lab experiments with a tremendous amount of difficulties. This, I guess, is the nature of graduate school after all. After reading a book by Dale Carnegie which I could not remember now, I started using the metaphoric example that he explained. In order to control my fears in graduate school, I pretended every night that my mind was like a radio which could be turned off before going to bed. I always said to myself that I would worry about these thoughts tomorrow – that I was not going anywhere. This simple habit was tremendously helpful in controlling my mind and decreasing my anxiety and allowing me to sleep soundly. I just discovered how to turn my mind off and prevent it from being overwhelmed by fear, and have a good night sleep.
How long does it take to form a habit?
The common answer is 21 days. This fact came from Dr. Maxwell Maltz (a plastic surgeon) who discovered that amputees took 21 days to overcome and adapt to the new reality. As this might be true sometimes, new researchpoints out that new habit formation takes 66 days to be engraved in our minds. Practicing this habit for that time makes it part of your routine. I would recommend using a calendar, following Jerry Seinfeld’s habit-forming strategy. Jerry bought a big wall calendar and marked it daily every time he practiced the habit . After several weeks, he formed a chain that got longer over time. Your main job is to not break the chain at least for 66 days – several apps are available now in smartphones as well. I like and use coach.me App
On the other hand, if you want to break bad habits, you need to control the unwanted response when your memory activates the bad habit. You need to monitor your behavior vigilantly and to increase self-awareness. These are the “Don’t do’s.” Self-awareness serves much better than decreasing the habit gradually- This include dieting. Being vigilant of the bad habits enforces our willpower to stop these habits. We also need to replace the bad habit with something stronger and better to fill the space left by the old habit.
I believe that forming good habits is crucial for successful life, and now you need only to do them for 66 days using the Jerry Seinfeld method and the information you read in this post.
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