It has been known for some time in the psychology circles that children’s level of self-control which is developed early on doesn’t change much after the elementary school age. If you are interested, you can read more about the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment which was done in the early 1970’s. The conclusion the researchers arrived at was that whether genetic predisposition or environment play a role, the level of self-control (just like the general temperament) of an individual remain rather predictable and consistent throughout their life.

And while this difference in individuals ability to pursue and apply concerted effort to achieve some future goal seem to be predetermined, there is none the less a simple way to improve your odds of success. This is by no means a silver bullet, but there is a consistent pattern that everyone who succeeds at making any kind of change in their environment or personal circumstances will have to follow. The better you are able to understand how your behavior patterns are simply a non-detrimental form of addiction, the faster you will be able to introduce change.

Most people have a clear understanding of what an addiction as some detrimental behavior, often developed over a long period of time through sheer repetition, which is difficult to unwire and stop. While this is entirely correct, this understanding misses an important fundamental: addictions are simply a collection of established behavioral patterns. Notice that this applies to most consistent behavior patterns. For example, just like it’s possible to develop an addiction to smoking, it is also possible to develop an addiction to drinking tea after dinner. Both – the smoker and the tea drinker – would feel quite distressed if this established pattern is broken and unless such a pattern is re-established, this void will continue to effect discomfort and possibly physical withdrawal effects. Over time such patterns become the norm, and an extended effort might be required to overcome such ingrained behaviors.

But just maybe, just like demonstrated in the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, every individual is born with a set number of behavior patterns which can be ambiguous at any one point in time. Because people are actually a lot more habitual than they believe, behavior patterns are also much easier to modify by replacing behaviors as opposed to eliminating them.

This makes sense after considering that most addictions/behavior patterns develop to fulfill a personal need. The shortcut to speeding up personal changes is to not waste time trying to figure out what exact need a given behavior services. While the effort required might be helpful in severe cases, for most average folks who simply want to give up a few bad behaviors it is a lot easier to replace the behaviors instead of eliminating them.

By carefully selecting the new behavior which can be substituted instead of a negative one, it’s quite easy to introduce lasting changes which over time will compound their positive aspects.

For example, someone who is used to eating snacks while watching TV after dinner might consume unhealthy, processed foods and so their health would suffer. The old way would be to attempt to give up snacks and watch TV cold-turkey instead. As you can imagine, the will power required for such a feat would require the self-awareness and concentration powers of a Buddhist monk – not very achievable to an average middle class first-world family. To use the replacement behavior mentioned above, there is no need to eliminate snacking at all. In fact, it’s quite possible to extend snacking by simply gradually replacing unhealthy foods with more healthy ones. Replacing M&Ms with Fruits & Nuts is a great start, and when berries are in season it just might be possible to consume the FDA-recommended amount this way.

Similar substitutions can be made to alter any behavior or replace “negative” addictions with positive ones – slowly, pleasantly, and with lasting effectiveness.

The top secret way to introduce such changes is to structure the environment to encourage a certain behavior while not preventing an undesired one. Simply by altering your surrounding to offer the desired behavior as the easiest one to pursue it is possible to introduce lasting positive changes and because addictions are simply a form of an established behavior pattern it’s possible to replace these undesired behaviors with something more appealing.

And if you’re serious about kicking your smoking addiction to the curb, it might be worth your time to instead replace your after-meal cigarette with an apple or perhaps a cup of loose-leaf jasmine tea.