6 shortcuts that can take you from broke to rich

Tom Corley, Contributor
Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Great Gatsby."
Source: Warner Bros.

Thousands of poor and broke people become rich. According to Forbes, 1,700 people in America become millionaires every day. And, according to my own Rich Habits study, 41 percent of the 177 self-made millionaires I studied were born and raised in poverty.

What was the No. 1 factor that helped them shake off their chains and become wealthy? Changing their daily habits.

Changing your habits can be hard, especially if you don't know how, as I detail in my book, "Change Your Habits, Change Your Life." Here are six shortcuts that can help.

Merge your habits

Think of an existing habit, or an existing neural pathway, as a train on a track, except it's inside your brain. If you add your new habit to that same train, as if it were a new passenger, the brain won't put up a fight, because you're not trying to take control of the train or the track. You're just taking a ride.

When an old habit does not perceive a new habit as a threat, it does not wage war against the formation of the new habit.

Here's how it works: Let's say you have an old habit of drinking coffee every day and you want to add a new habit of drinking a glass of water every day. Solution? Merge the two habits. Take your coffee cup and put it on a water cooler, or in your sink, or in your refrigerator, next to the water bottle. When your brain tells you it's time to drink coffee, you will, initially, search for your coffee cup. That coffee cup will then become a trigger, reminding you to also drink a cup of water.

That new joint habit will only take a few days to stick.

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Choose your friends wisely

Old habits can be triggered by the individuals you associate with. If you are trying to get rid of some old, bad habits, you need to limit the time you spend associating with those individuals who act as a trigger for those bad habits.

If you are trying to forge a new good habit, start associating with people who possess the new good habit you are trying to adopt. If one of your new goals is to read more, join a reading group that meets periodically to discuss books the group reads. Or find people who run, jog or exercise and begin jogging, running or exercising with them.

Once you open your eyes to habit change, you will begin to see that there are many individuals who have those same habits. They are all around you. You only begin to notice them after you make a decision to change.

Change your environment

It is much easier to abandon old habits and form new habits when your environment changes. New home, new job, new friends, etc., all offer an opportunity to forge new habits. When your environment changes, you are forced to think your way through each day. Spoons, knives and forks are no longer where they used to be, so you have to think. Your commute to work is different, so you have to think. Your new responsibilities at work are different, so you have to think.

Eventually your brain will force you to develop habits in your new environment in order to make the brain's job easier.

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Start small

It is far easier to change your habits if you start with small habits. Small habit change involves adding habits that require very little effort. Examples include drinking more water during the day, taking vitamin supplements or listening to audio books while you commute to work.

Small habit change also includes cutting back on existing bad habits, like reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke, reducing TV watching by thirty minutes each day or reducing Facebook or Internet use to less than an hour a day.

The smaller and easier the habit change, the higher the probability that it will stick.

Schedule your new habits

One of the tricks self-made millionaires use is to incorporate certain good daily habits onto their to-do list. This creates accountability: Two-thirds of the self-made millionaires in my study maintained a to-do list.

Every day you must be accountable for the new daily habits you are trying to form. If they are simple daily habits, after a few weeks, you won't need to include them on your to-do list – they will have become habits. You can then move on to other, new daily habits using this to-do list habit process.

Firewall your bad habits

One trick to habit change is to make it harder for you to engage in a bad habit by creating some type of firewall between you and the bad habit. For example, let's say you eat junk food late at night while watching TV. You eat that junk food because it's in your pantry. If it wasn't in your pantry, you wouldn't be able to eat it. So stop stocking your pantry with junk food and instead stock it with healthy snacks.

The habit isn't actually eating junk food; the habit is snacking while you watch TV. Eliminating junk food may stop you from snacking, but more likely, when you sit to watch TV, the cue, you will default into your routine of seeking a snack. This time, however, the reward will be a different snack, ideally a healthy or healthier one.

Tom Corley is an accountant, financial planner and author of "Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life."

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