The Power of Habits

Want to know a secret?

Want to be able to be happy all the time?

Want to be able to progress at work?

Want to get fitter, healthier, lose weight?

Here's the secret:

Habits

We might think habits are boring, but here is what happened to me.

I was listening to the audio book Atomic Habits by James Clear, and you know how sometimes it takes a few times of someone saying the same thing several times in several ways.....Well, this time I finally got it. James explained how habits transformed his life, and now they have mine.

Habits are everything, they are who we are, they are what we do. They are automatic. They are painless. We don't even realise that we are doing them. They are subconscious. 

Habits are easy, because, well, they are a habit!

Put simply when you 

  1. Create a new Habit
  2. Put the new habit on autopilot

Or

  1. Break a bad habit
  2. Swap it for something that serves you

Then you can use your habits to build your new life automatically. 

Pretty simple concept.

According to researchers at Duke University, habits make up 40% of our actions every day. So if your life today is essentially the sum total of your habits, which ones right now are serving you?

Take a moment, and stop and think.  What habits do you currently have?

  • What 5 things do you do every day when you wake up?
  • What 5 things do you do when you first get home or get to work?
  • What's the first thing you reach for when you are tired or hungry?
  • How many times a day do you check your phone?

If you spent a day listing all the things that you currently do on autopilot and how long you spend doing them, how much time could you claw back on things that move your life forward? 20 minutes? 30 minutes? 60 minutes? 2 hours?

What you repeatedly do, ultimately forms the person you are, what you believe, how you think, how you portray yourself to other people. 

But learning a new habit is difficult right? It's like a New Years resolution, you start out with the best of intentions, but it's just so hard to keep going.... sound familiar?

Is learning a new habit worth it?

I remember when my children learnt to walk. It's a habit they continue this day, one foot in front of the other, keeping their balance, coordinating their muscles, sometimes even looking where they are going!

What we forget though is how long it took them to learn this habit, and how many times they failed miserably along the way. They would pull themselves up on their chubby legs wobble a bit, put one leg out and then fall on their bottom. Have a rest, then maybe try again, or come back to it later. Then one day they had failed enough times that they knew how to do it. 

You have a habit every morning of putting clothes on, right? Well at least I hope you do, Not many people walk out of their house in the morning having forgotten their pants.

It's a habit. It's automatic, we learnt to do it. No will power needed. That's the secret.

Think Big. Start Small. Find a Reason. Make them part of your Daily Routine.

Willpower is limited. Studies show that everyone has a finite amount of willpower and we can run out of it. Think of all the things you do when you run out of willpower.

Maybe you walked past the cake at work 99 times and said No, then right at the end of the day you ate that last piece. Were you better off than the person who ate a slice first thing in the morning and then maybe had a smaller lunch to compensate?

Have you ever found yourself mindlessly watching television even though you are really too tired to watch any more?

Do you reach for junk food and snacks because they are convenient and you just don't have the energy to make or get better food?

Willpower comes from your conscious mind, the weakest part of our brain, it's limited and it takes energy. AS you can see from the examples above when we are tired we default to our automatic habits, what we have programmed ourselves to do. 

So let's create some new automatic habits that are positive...

Does it take 21 days to create a habit?

The short answer is No. It depends on the habit and the person. The key is not time, it is:

  1. How important the habit is to you
  2. The intensity of the experience

The Good news is that there are some shortcuts, tips and tricks to make habits stick faster.

1. Start Small

Break down your goal into small steps. Find one thing you can get started on that is easy to do and you don't need the motivation to do it. 

Want to be more confident and engaging when speaking with other people. Start with spending 30 seconds practising smiling in the mirror every morning after brushing your teeth.

Want to create a habit of going for a run before work every day? Start by making it a habit to put out your running shoes and gear before you go to bed. Then one day you will find yourself just putting it on and going around the block. 

Want to lose weight and become healthier? Start by making it a habit to drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up.

2. The 1% rule. Build up a little at a time.

Ever heard of compound interest? How if you improve 1% every day, by the end of the year you are 38x better. Now clearly that's just a trick with mathematics BUT take a moment, think about it. 

If you work late tonight and miss putting your children to bed tonight you don't expect your family to fall apart.... if you do it for 365 days?

If you go to the gym for 20 minutes today, you don't expect to be able to run a marathon tomorrow... But if you go to the gym every day for 365 days?

Not only will you get better each day building on the next, but it is more than that.

Let's take a look at the rain forest. If a tree grows 1% taller than its peers every day, it won't take long for it to stand out above the rest. Nearer to the sun, nearer to the rain. Bigger roots for more nutrients. Now it is the dominant tree in the forest, reaping the greatest rewards. Not only is it improving itself, but the world is rewarding it too!

So you could choose to stay stuck.

Or you can choose to make small incremental changes that build upon each other (also known as habit stacking) until your life is in a different place.

12 months ago if you had said to me I would weight 20lbs less, get up every morning at 6 am to spend 10 minutes meditating, followed by 10 minutes exercise and a cold shower before then waking each one of my kids up individually with a cuddle I would have laughed at you. In fact, I remember around then watching an episode of The Good Doctor on an aeroplane and thinking wow how can he do those press-ups and star jumps like that every morning, that's some dedication.

Why am I telling you this? Because it is truly possible if you take it one step at a time. Build one small change on top of each other. Enjoy the process. Have a reason. Commit to Change!

Was it smooth sailing? No

Did I fail along the way? Absolutely.

The cold shower and the daily exercise for me were the hardest to make into a ritual. I would try them for a bit, manage a day here or there. Then I would get sick, or there would be a business trip or a holiday and I would fall out of the habit, and before I knew it a month had passed and it felt really hard to get going again.

For me, the answer is to make them DAILY habits, no excuses, no caveats, no wavering. Find a way to do it every day. And if I do skip, then restart straight away, not tomorrow, not when the weather gets better, or the kids are back at school. Right now.

Want to know more about Habits?

I can thoroughly recommend both of these books:

S.J Scott - Habit Stacking

James Clear - Atomic Habits

 

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