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Habits are a huge part of who we are! Our lives are full of them, and sometimes we don’t even realise how present and important they are. So, are we capable of training ourselves to acquire any habit? The short answer to that question is yes! Of course, I’m not simply going to leave you with that. But, I want you to keep in mind while reading this article that yes, you can acquire any habit, and the same way you can do that, you can also lose the unwanted habits in your life.

You can teach yourself how to do pretty much anything if you set your mind to it and work hard towards achieving it, no matter how tempting it may be to give up along the way, or convince yourself that you don’t actually need to keep going.

I have learned the tips I am about to give you from American psychologist and philosopher William James’s book entitled The Principles of Psychology (1980), and more specifically from his chapter on habit. He discusses the four steps to acquiring any habit, or breaking an old one, according to philosopher Alexander Bain (1859).

Here they are…

  1. Launch ourselves with a strong and decisive initiative as possible

First, it is essential to start with a clear goal. You need to be truly sure that this is what you want. Think of all the reasons that make you want this habit, or make you want to put an end to it. Whether you’ve always dreamed of playing an instrument, or really want to quit smoking, or biting your nails, you need to take that first step towards change, and that’s deciding that you will change. Most importantly, this initiative has to be yours. It has to come from you, and only you. The pressure your parents are putting on you, or the general opinion of your friends may push you, or it may not, but they do not matter as much as your own will and your own determination to make this change. When you have it, you’re nearly halfway there.

  1. Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life 

Exceptions are tempting, and often seem harmless. However, if it’s too early in the process, then that exception may do much more harm than you think. Avoid the cheat days, and the “It won’t make a difference if I skip practice today”. It will. This stage is about building the foundations for your habit, about making it solid and durable. If your foundations have holes in them, then eventually your whole creation will tumble before you even reach the top. So, before you make that exception, think carefully; what do you want more?  

  1. Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain 

In other words, whenever you have a chance to work towards your resolution, do it. Baby steps and small goals all help you reach the ultimate goal. Also, avoid all the things that make it harder for you to do so. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and support you, instead of the ones who will tempt you to deviate from your ambition. Avoid the little things in your life that act as cues for your bad habit, and reward yourself when you do well. You are your biggest supporter! You are doing this for yourself, remember that, and hold on to all the reasons why. In fact, according to Viktor E Frankl (1946), “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” 

  1. Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day 

Practice makes perfect, right? What is meant here is to keep pushing yourself every now and then to do things that you would rather not do for the sake of training your brain to adapt to difficult circumstances that you have not chosen, and for achieving distant goals that you do want. We are often faced with unpleasant experiences that we must deal with, but the more we have trained ourselves to do so, the easier it will be. Those who have gone through a lot usually end up becoming stronger, and when the whole world shakes around them, they manage to stand tall and steady.

Finally, anything can be a habit if we want it to be. Adapting to change can become a habit, so can happiness, productivity, kindness, and determination. We are ever-changing species, we are not fixed and the way we live our lives is not predetermined. We have an incredible gift, and that’s the ability to choose. We also have the innate ability to grow, and change, and mold our brains into new shapes and forms with every new thing we learn. So, I urge you to go ahead and push yourself to learn something new that you’ve always wanted to learn, and to break the bad habits you regret doing every day and you know you want to change.


Bain, A. (1859). The Emotions and the Will. 
Frankl, V. E. (1946). Man's Search for Meaning .

James, W. (1980). The Principles of Psychology .


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