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Author who studies millionaires: Here's how habits can make you rich—or poor

According to a Columbia University study by lead investigator Renee Goodwin, cigarette smokers are seven times more likely to smoke pot than non-smokers. Why? A little-known phenomenon known as the transfer effect is to blame.

When you forge a habit that improves one area of your life, this automatically triggers a desire for improvements in other areas of your life, say researchers at Indiana University.

What's behind the transfer effect? A unique breed of habits called "keystone habits."

"Keystone habits" are infectious behaviors that act like catalysts, giving birth to other related habits. Cigarette smoking and pot smoking are one example. Another is drinking alcohol and smoking. Still another is commuting in your car and listening to the radio.

While "keystone habits" like smoking can be bad and lead to other related bad habits, they can also be a good thing, if you know how to use them.

The "rich habit" of aerobic exercise, for example, is a good "keystone habit." The Indiana researchers found in their study that those who exercised aerobically, by virtue of the transfer effect, also forged the habit of eating healthier food. This had the effect of improving overall health of the exercisers in their study.

The "poor habit" of sitting on the couch and watching TV can be a bad thing, however, leading you to other "poor habits" such as eating junk food.

Meanwhile, the "rich habit" of saving 10 percent or more of your income can lead to other "rich habits," such as using coupons, buying your clothes at Goodwill stores, prudent investing, budgeting, etc.

The "poor habit" of spending more than you earn, on the other hand, can lead to other "poor habits," such as overusing credit cards or borrowing money from banks, family and friends. The stress associated with struggling to pay your bills can also lead to other "poor habits" like eating unhealthy comfort food, drinking alcohol or taking drugs to relieve the stress.

The "rich habit" of pursuing a dream can lead to other "rich habits" such as self-improvement reading, forging new skills, seeking mentors and so on.

Conversely, the "poor habit" of staying in a job you hate for security purposes can lead to chronic stress and cause you to forge other "poor habits" intended to relieve the stress, such as drinking or eating junk food.

This is why it is so important to forge good habits: Good habits lead to more good habits. It's also why it is so important to eliminate bad habits: Bad habits lead to more bad habits.

Habits are your transportation system in life. If your desired destination is a healthy, happy and successful life, good daily habits will push you along to that destination.

Open your eyes to your habits, because the wrong habits could be pushing you along to a destination you won't like very much.

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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