The precise answer is:
As many as you believe you can.
Any arbitrary number is false. When people experience enlightenment they can change their whole life in a moment. Dozens of bad habits seemingly disappear from their life. New habits emerge.
But there are others who struggle to change even one habit at a time.
Which, by the way, is the correct answer for the majority of people. Change one habit at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself.
What Are We Talking About?
Usually, when people talk about changing habits, they have different things in mind. For some, it’s quitting bad habits. For others, it’s developing good habits. And yet another person means a modification of existing habits. Let’s go over all of those scenarios.
Actually, changing a Habit Is Extremely Difficult
It’s the hardest work in the habit’s realm. It takes a lot of pondering, reflection, planning, and a sh**load of action.
You see, to change a habit, you need first to deconstruct it into pieces: a cue, a routine, and an endpoint. What most people recognize as a habit, is actually the routine - the things you do when performing your habit: smoking cigarettes, writing in a journal, drinking alcohol, exercising.
However, the actual habit is a loop: it starts from a cue, the routine follows and then it somehow finishes (quite often in the form of rewarding feeling).
So, reflecting on your current behavior is tough enough, especially when it’s semi- or fully automatic. When you actually change your habit, you need to create a new routine triggered by the same cue and repeat, repeat, and repeat till the new routine becomes a default option.
You fail a lot. It invites negative self-talk and feelings about the whole endeavor. Now, you not only fail but also feel like crap.
Quitting a Bad Habit
Well, there is no such thing. Once your habit is hardcoded in your brain in the form of a habit loop, it can be only reprogrammed. It cannot be removed.
The only real way to quit a bad habit is to change it via the hard route described above. Your new behavior becomes a default behavior, so you don’t go back to your old bad behavior.
However, there is a hack: you can avoid the trigger, which will make you avoid the bad habit. So, if you only get drunk in bars, you stop going there. If you only buy donuts on your way to the office, you change the route. If you waste a lot of time on FB on your mobile, you delete the app.
It’s a neat solution. You no longer indulge in your bad behavior. The biggest danger is in going back to the triggers. Install FB once again on your mobile and you will be sucked into it in no time.
Developing a Good Habit
I like this method of “changing habits” the most. It puts your mind into something new and useful. And whatever time, energy, and attention you dedicate to new good habits, it cannot be dedicated to your bad habits.
What is more, your new habits are actually molding yourself. We are our habits. If you develop good habits, you become a better person.
Again, for most of us, developing a new habit should be constricted to one at a time. However, if you have a good track record and a reliable framework, you can develop more than one. I developed dozens of new habits in a few months, but I’m a unicorn in the habit world.
I recommend left and right the Tiny Habits framework for anybody interested in developing good habits. It’s brilliant, it’s easy, it works. And the inventor of this method, dr. BJ Fogg offers a free Tiny Habits course, which is simply mind-blowing: practical, short (under 1 hour within a week), and VERY educating.
Originally published on Quora