How to successfully change your habits. HINT: Start small.
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Have you tried to change and/or establish a new habit and failed? Or perhaps rid yourself of a not-so-helpful habit and find it returns again and again? You're not the only one! And the good news is, is there are easy-to-implement solutions.
I recently read Atomic Habits, Tiny Changes & Remarkable Results: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones — and guess what? We most definitely can change and establish new habits! Below are a few highlights from the book that you will likely find useful and easy to put in place.
The Four Laws of Behavior Change
The book is built around the four laws of the habit building process, referred to as the Four Laws of Behavior Change. I've provided an example on how you can apply the laws to facilitate desired behaviors:
Make it obvious. Don’t hide your fruits in your fridge, put them on display front and center.
Make it attractive. Start with the fruit you like the most, so you’ll actually want to eat it when you see it.
Make it easy. Don’t create needless friction by focusing on fruits that are hard to peel. For example, grapes and apples are super easy to eat.
Make it satisfying. If you like the fruit you picked, you’ll love eating it and feel healthier as a result!
You can apply the 4 laws to all kinds of good habits, like running, establishing a meditation practice, spending more time with family, and so on. Conversely, you can do the opposite for bad habits. This is known as inversion.
While we want to establish and keep good habits, you may have some habits you want to get rid of like smoking or checking social media too often when you could be using that time for something more productive. The inversion of the four laws comes to the rescue:
Make it invisible.
Make it unattractive.
Make it difficult.
Make it unsatisfying.
Have you tried to change a habit and found that no matter what goals you set and no matter how much motivation you have, the habit never really catches on? Or, perhaps when trying to change an undesirable habit, it returns in just a few weeks? If you’re having trouble changing or establishing habits, the problem isn’t you. Bad habits repeat themselvees again and again not because you dont want to change, but becuase you have the wrong system in place.
For example, let's say that you want to cook more. Great! What system do you have in place to support that habit? If you struggle to get to the grocery store each week to food shop then establishing the habit of cooking is rather complicated and bound to fail. The answer? Figure out what system will support this new habit. Perhaps ordering the groceries online and having them delivered or ready for pick up at a convenient time will support that habit you want to establish. Before jumping into changing and establishing habits, think about the systems you have (or don’t have) in place and make adjustments as needed to support the habit.
Clear believes that it’s critical to have an idea of the person we want to become. When we’re focused in on the identity of this person, it’s much easier to collect the habits, which support us on the path of becoming that particular person with those particular habits.
Here’s my (identity) list:
I’m an athlete
I’m a nutrition & fitness coach
I’m a cook
I’m a learner
I’m a reader
Based on several studies, we are more apt to stick with a habit if we attach it to a certain time and location. This is what Clear refers to as the implementation intention. This strategy may work better for some folks than others. I know for myself, I like routine and so this strategy would likely work for me. The implemtnation intention formula:
I will [BEHAVIOR} at [TIME] in [LOCATION]
I will exercise for one hour at 9am in my studio on M, W, F, S
I will read an article or book related to nutrition or fitness for one hour every day at 8am at my desk
I will write a blog every Sunday at 10am at my desk
Another great way to form a new habit is by connecting it to an already existing one. If implementation intention is not your thing, this might work for you. You can also combine implementation intention and habit stacking together.
The idea here is to take an established habit you already have in place and attach the new habit to it. The habit stacking formula:
After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]
After exercising I will perform dynamic stretching and then use the foam roller.
Often where we live or work can prevent us from forming habits. It's not about the place but rather how we organize the things around us. Design your environments to work for you, not against you. If you want to read every day, put a book or your Kindle on your pillow before you leave for the day so it’s there when you head to bed. If you want to journal each morning before your day begins, put the journal and a pen on the nightstand so it’s the first thing you reach for upon waking.
The Two-Minute Rule
We have a tendency to give up on changing/establishing new habits because we set unrealistic expectations. The answer: Go small! At first, create habits that require only two minutes to get them done. For example, after exercising, I started with 2 minutes of dyanmic stretching. And then after successfully praciticing those 2 minutes for a period of time, I found myself strecthing longer and then I added in foam rolling as well. Baby steps.
The takeaway(s)? All of us definitely have the ability to change and establish new habits — and it's not a lack of motivation that causes us to fail. What causes so many folks to fail is they’re simply going about it the wrong way. Smaller is better. Having systems in place is critical for success. Attaching a new habit to an already established one helps to solidify the new one. After reading Clear’s book, I reflected on the numerous habit changes I’ve made over the last 3.5 years and why they were successful. The habits I established were small and manageable — and I had realistic expectations with systems in place to support the changes I wished to make. And now, I continue to refine those habits and even add in new ones.
▶️ Looking to establish nutrition and/or fitness habits? Hit me up and let's work together!
I highly recommend reading the book and to learn more about Atomic Habits and the author, James Clear, click here.
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