Archive for October 23, 2007

This Can Make Or Break You

October 23, 2007

Some time ago at the National University Of Singapore Toastmasters Club (NUSTMC) meeting, I heard a very apt and timely speech presented by Xiong Dan. He did his research and made very poignant facts about our habits. In addition, he provided us some practical steps that we can all benefit from.

As you know, I am a strong believer and advocate of The Power of Positive Habits to help us excel in life. There are also some other articles in this blog that talks about it too. Hence, with his consent, I post his speech here so that we can also harness this power of positive habits. Thanks very much, Xiong Dan.

And now, my friends, This can Make or Break You


Today I will present some interesting understanding about our habits. I hope to raise your level of awareness of the important roles our habits play in shaping our lives, and I will also share with you one practical tip on how to break bad habits and install good ones.

I am going to divide my speech into 3 parts. In each part I will answer one question. The 3 questions I will address are:

1. What is a habit?

2. Why our habits are so important to us?

3. How can we break a bad habit and install a good one?

So, not a big deal, just 3 questions, What? Why? And How? WWH.

First things first,

What is a Habit?

To understand what a habit really is, we must first examine how our brains work. Our brains are created from a very complex array of neurons (or nerve cells). Each of these neurons is connected to thousands of others.

By carefully adjusting the relations of one neuron to another, our brain forms pathways with the neurons to receive inputs from our sensory organs. After receiving inputs though these pathways, our brain can then process and interpret the massive amounts of information we receive from the outside world.

Some pathways have been used so much that our brain has set up dedicated connections to run through them automatically. If you play a musical instrument or if you play sports like badminton or table tennis, chances are you understand this process.

Actions like playing the guitar were incredibly complex and difficult for one to learn initially, but after repetitive practice, a skilled player can play a super complex piece without thinking where to press the guitar string, because a neuron connection has been built specifically for that action which runs automatically. These neuron connections are what we call, our habits.

I once read an interesting idea about our brains, which says you and I as human beings are just super bio-computers. Now if you think of a computer, a computer does millions of calculations using programs installed in it. Some programs often require little or no input at all to function properly.

Just like habits, these programs will often run completely without your awareness. Some of these programs are malicious and destructive, such as viruses and spyware. Like these nasty programs, destructive habits often install and run themselves in our brains without our awareness of them.

I hope this metaphor has helped you better understand what a habit really is.

They are like programs that we have consciously or unconsciously installed on our computers. Having answered the first question let’s look at the 2nd one.

Why our habits are so important to us?

It has been said that 90% of what we do on a daily basis is a result of our habits. Our lives run on habits. We have habits for what we eat, how we dress and where we go.

Habits dictate whether we jump out of bed each morning or hit that snooze button. Habits decide what actions we take on a consistent basis. Since it is our consistent actions that determine the direction of our life, our habits ultimately decide much of the outcome of our lives.

The set of habits we have also determines what kind of person we are. It is no wonder that Stephen Covey wrote a book entitled “The 7 habits of highly effective people” Your habits will distinguish you as an effective person or otherwise.

Good habits are like those useful programs that we have installed on our computers. They make our work more efficient, if you installed Microsoft office, you can edit a speech script easily; if you installed matlab, you can do complex calculations within seconds.

On the other hand, bad habits are like virus or spywares on your computer. They constantly drag your performance down. Think about how annoying it is when your computer keeps popping up windows where you can download x-rated movie while you are programming, what’s worse, your professor is standing right behind you. You get the idea. Good habits make you, and bad habits break you.

Habits play a truly important role in shaping our lives. As such wouldn’t it be nice if we can break bad habits and install good ones? This brings us to the last question.

How can we break a bad habit and install a good one?

Here I share with you a simple to follow technique which can help you break bad habits and install good ones. It is called the 21 day trial method. This method is best explained using an example.

Suppose you want to get into the good habit of get up 6:30 every morning and read an English article and plan your day. Tell yourself you are going to do this for the next 21 consecutive days. By the time you successfully graduate from this method, trust me, you will form a great habit that will benefit you for the rest of your life.

There are 2 things to note about this method though.

No. 1, the 21 trial days must be consecutive, if you break it in between, you must start over again.

No.2, since this sounds like a very easy method, you might be tempted to change 5 habits at one go. No, No, 1 at a time. You can’t really overhaul you life at a single attempt.


Ladies and gentlemen, as you see from my speech, habits play a vital role in shaping our lives. If you want to take charge of your life, please take some time to list down good habits that you want to form and the bad habits that you want to break.

Use the 21 day trial technique, or other creative methods you can come up with. Don’t let your bad habits control you, instead control your own destiny and become the person you truly want to be.