Constructing A Life of Good Habits
When you think about it, you are a lot like Lego.
Just like those amazing Lego constructions, you and your life are built on a foundation of small, fairly trivial and or simple actions. Even the important stuff you do, is just small actions that add up to something way more impressive.
In fact, you probably tend to repeat many of the same actions day after day, like eating breakfast, going to the gym, responding to emails, reading before bed.
And this can be both a good thing and a bad thing…
Because all those small actions, repeated over time, become habits, and those habits add up to your week, month, year, and ultimately to your life.
So those hundreds of small actions you choose to prioritise each day, shape the character of your entire life. And it’s up to you to decide if your habitual behaviours are aligned with the life you want to lead.
Making A Positive Change
Now, let’s say you want to change or improve your life in some way.
You recognise that you need to introduce a new behaviour into your life, such as getting up a couple of hours earlier, so that you can create a different result – more fitness so you can have energy for your business goals, let’s say.
Seems like a no-brainer that you would choose to prioritise actions that make your life better.
But, as we have all experienced, changing habits can be tough to do. And that’s because the brain, which controls your behaviour, is stuck in a rut.
Rewiring Your Brain
When we say “stuck in a rut” – what do we mean. It means that the brain has “wired in” or “automated” certain actions and essentially removed them from conscious control.
This means, as you go about your daily life, you don’t waste time or energy thinking about the routine stuff. You just do it.
You see, as each of us moves through life, our brain tries to figure out which behaviours it can put on autopilot, so as to save the higher cognitive functions for those more important and challenging life decisions.
As the brain recognises necessary and repetitive actions, it sets about creating special pathways of neurons (brain cells) that fire automatically, so you literally don’t have to think about them too much next time.
That’s why you can drive to work and get there safely while carrying on a complex conversation with your spouse. The familiar route is hard wired, all the decisions and actions automated, which frees the brain up for the more complex and novel activity of discussing the day ahead.
Everything that is currently a habit in your life is just something you have rehearsed so many times, that the brain decided to automate it.
Exercise can be a habit, but so can inactivity. Procrastination can be as much of a rut as productivity. Obviously, in both these examples, you will get very different outcomes.
An Example: Getting Up Earlier
So let’s say you’ve had a habit of sleeping in til say 7am, which is about 2 hours more than you actually require. You decide you really want to start getting up at 5am so you can work on your business, or get to the gym…
The obvious first step is to set an alarm the night before. The alarm goes off, the brain says “this is too early”, the body hits the snooze button, and you fall back into a deep sleep. You may not even question what you are doing – and even if you do, the odds are stacked against you because that rut is hard-wired into your brain.
Your survival doesn’t depend on the new behaviour, so the brain just defaults to the old program. And unless there is a great deal of importance and commitment, this could go on for months. The program is running you, rather than you choosing how you want to behave.
But let’s say, after a week of this, you become frustrated that you haven’t been getting up early, and you really do want to change that old habit. What do you do to reset your brain and create a new habit more in line with your values and goals?
Let’s walk it through, step-by-step.
Before we get into the minutia of the actual habit – let’s look at the context you will need to establish a new habit.
1. Start With Why
This phrase “Start With Why’, made famous by Simon Sinek, really cuts to the chase of achieving anything great in life. You need to be clear on your purpose.
Ask: Why do you want to make this change? What result will it achieve for you? Why is that important to you?
Knowing your purpose is crucial. Here’s why: Again, we go back to the brain. The brain is designed to pay attention to what matters most, as it is wired for survival. If it thinks waking up early is optional, it will just sideline that action for your pre-established routine – which is clearly so important it became wired into the brain.
So if you sit down and get really clear on your WHY, then this sends a signal to the brain to prioritise this new action. (Tip: You really need to know how to create a clear and compelling WHY statement before you start.)
2. Set a clear goal…
Now that you have nutted out your reason, you need an equally inspiring goal. This gives the mind something concrete to aim at… (Tip: make it really inspiring!)
Ask: Where do I want to be in 12months, 2 years, 5 years…??
Let’s say you want to get up at 5am to exercise, so you have the energy to manage your new business through it’s growth phase.
You decide on a goal:
In 12 months, I want to be lighter, leaner, aerobically fit and have all the energy I need to build a highly successful business and enjoy my life on every level. In order to achieve that I will exercise for 30 minutes each morning, between 5.15 and 5.45, so I have an abundance of energy available to me at all times.
(Tip: Take some measurements here to guide your progress.)
3. Envision It
Try to formulate a clear picture of what you will need to do to get to that place… (Tip: visualise what will you see, hear, be doing, be feeling).
Ask: What will it look like when I am doing it?? How will I know when I have achieved my goal? How will my life change? What will each day look like?
I will wake up to my alarm, jump out of bed, put my runners on and head out the door at 5.15 for 30mins of jogging. I am going to feel excited, alive and enthusiastic. It will be quiet and peaceful, and I will enjoy the feeling of getting out amongst nature for this time each morning. I’ll keep a track of my vital statistics as I run to track my progress. My progress will be charted in an app or excel spreadsheet so that I can feel inspired to continue. I will see my energy grow throughout the year, as I get leaner, fitter, stronger and increase my aerobic capacity.
4. Strategise It
Break the goal down into small, manageable chunks and start to introduce it gradually into your day…(Tip: make it so simple you can easily imagine yourself doing it in 5-10 minutes.)
Ask: What is the first small step I can take to move towards that goal and how can I set that up as a daily habit…?? Use my Visioning Tool to help you create some clear goals…
Keeping Consistent, Seeing It Through.
Okay, now you have your compelling why, a clear goal, you can really see how it will look with this new habit, and you have sketched out your strategy for realising it…
Should be easy right? Not so fast…
The problem most people have when attempting to change their habits is that they are too gung-ho. They go in too hard, too fast. Motivation is high to begin with, so they over-reach. But when motivation drops, the task quickly begins to feel overwhelming and they don’t follow through, which decreases motivation and the likelihood that they will skip the action the next day as well. Before they know it, their new habit has collapsed.
How To Hardwire H.A.B.I.T.S
I’ve been looking into habits for a while now, and seeing what works with myself and the people I coach.
Over time, I have developed this super easy system for designing and implementing new habits… and as you can see, each letter of the word HABITS stands for something. Use it like a checklist and make sure all your potential new habits meet these criteria…
The first 3 steps (H.A.B) describe the quality of the action, and the second 3 steps (I.T.S) describe what you’ll need to do to make it stick.
Qualities for building better habits include:
H – Habitable
A – Accessible
B – Blatant
Building habits that stick requires:
I – Initiate
T – Timetable
S – Sweeten
Let’s go through each one in a little more detail.
HABITABLE – When you think about it, your habits have to be habitable, meaning they have to be good enough to live in, and appealing to you on some level. If you don’t really want to ‘inhabit’ your habits – then they probably won’t stick.
Getting up at 4am probably isn’t going to be ‘habitable’ for you if you have been routinely sleeping in til 9am – at least not immediately. Try getting up at 8.45 for a week, then 8.30 and work your way backwards gradually. If this is still tough, reduce the increments to 5 minutes.
ACCESSIBLE – Your new habit should be accessible, simple, easy to adopt. Don’t go overcomplicating it or choosing something way out of reach.
If you want to eat healthier, make your eating plan as simple as possible and fill your fridge with these foods, this will increase the likelihood that you will stick to it.
BLATANT – Do whatever you can to put your new habit front and centre in your life, and literally in your field of vision. You want to almost trip over your new habit every day at the right time.
Try keeping your socks and runners next to your bed or near the coffee pot – you will see them first thing when you wake up, then it’s easy to slip them on and before you know it, you are running. If you want to practice yoga every morning, then roll out your mat so you will need to step over it on your way to the bathroom.
Now To Make Those Habits Stick
INITIATE – You’ll need something to initiate your new habits: a trigger, a reminder, an alarm – so you don’t forget to remember. This is how you start jolting your brain out of it’s rut.
Set an alarm to go off in advance of the action so you have time to shift gears. Stick up a post-it note near your writing station so you remember to sit down and write every morning.
TIMETABLE – put it in your diary, your calendar, schedule it. Make it important. A priority.
Successful people schedule their time. If you want to commit to study, then you need to schedule those study times into your calendar or diary. Then guard those times from distractions. Don’t allow yourself to get pulled into emails or social media or daydreaming, when you have scheduled study time. Show your brain this new action matters, keep turning up and your brain will decide to wire a new pathway to automate your new study habit.
SWEETEN – you’ve got to sweeten the deal and make it satisfying. Your brain will prioritise anything that feels inherently good and/or gets rewarded when it’s completed.
Reward yourself for completing your action. You will find some things, like exercise or losing weight, inherently satisfying – it feels good doing it so you naturally want to do it again. You may find other things, like study or designing your website less inherently rewarding and you might need to set up a reward system, such as a movie once a week or dinner at your favourite restaurant when you complete your tasks.
Stacking the Odds in Your Favour
When you start taking control of the small moments, you win the day. When you win the day, you win the week, and when you win the week, you win the month…and so on…
If your life is not where you want it. Look at your habits and change them. Work out what habits you need to adopt to create the life you really want and deserve.
A great place to start building better habits is with your morning routine.
Not enough can be said about the conscious choice to stack your days with good habits.
Stacking good habits is life-changing. It really is like lego. You can build something amazing when you put those smaller pieces together in a deliberate way.