Top 8 Tips for Habit Change (Habit Series 7/7)
The previous blogs in this series have covered various topics relating to how habits work and how we can make them work better. This blog will offer several tips to further optimize your habit changes.
1. Have Systems, not Goals. Scott Adams, in his book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big,” says when you are trying to make changes, it is better to have systems versus goals. He states how goals can be vague, such as I want to lose 10 pounds, but systems — what you will eat, how you will exercise, what research you will put into your plan, how consistent you will be — will determine the results you want. Sports coaches understand this distinction, you may have the goal of winning a championship, but it is a system of how you recruit players, run practices, and manage assistant coaches to get you to that result. Goals are about one moment, such as cleaning my house, but that’s temporary if you do not have a system in place of immediately putting things where they belong. It is essential to have both –set a goal so you know the direction you are going in and build the system to support your journey.
2. Get a partner. Sometimes when we are thinking of making changes, it can be easy to talk about it but hard to live. We are all human with weaknesses and willpower lapses and sometimes cannot do it by ourselves. Enlisting help, whether a supportive partner or a coach, can help us make sustainable changes. It is the reason why many people work with personal trainers. If all we needed were more information on diet and exercise, we would all be walking around super fit, but when we partner with an expert, we are held accountable and can feel more motivated to do the work.
No matter how disciplined you are, you can go further when you go together. Marshall Goldsmith is one of the top coaches in the business and he has somebody that he calls every night so he knows he’s doing his ideal behaviors and can be held accountable. You can make it a two-way street and find a success buddy who wants to devote time to habit changes as there’s nothing more powerful than walking arm in arm with someone to go after your objectives. If it is the same exact goal like exercising more, you can take walks and workout classes together and even introduce a little competition to rev the engines. An accountability buddy allows you to report your goals, share your plans to get there, and help each other with information, connections, and motivation.
3. Recover from your mistakes. Let’s say you put in the most incredible systems, but somehow you get pulled off track. One busy day in a busy week slams you and you are unable to do your exercise routines. It’s fine, you are human, the key is to get back on track. Because some people try to be perfect, when they break their chain, it stays broken, and the next thing you know you have been off your exercise routine for two weeks and now you do not know if you can return. The answer is, that you can always return at any moment. Be mindful to prevent a slip from turning into a downward spiral… first, you stop exercising, you feel sluggish, you have low energy at work, are unproductive with your assignments, feel irritable, don’t spend time with your family, and so on. Be patient with yourself, if you fall off the wagon, brush yourself off, and keep going. Try another strategy, reinforce your commitment, and press on. You got this!
Another reason why people get pulled off track is because they get to a certain level of success and then get too comfortable. We stop doing what we did to get us there and we slowly degrade like frogs in boiling water, warming so incrementally that they do not realize they are getting cooked.
5. Be quick to eliminate bad habits. A good way to think about habits is to think about cultivating a garden. There will be a variety of flowers, trees, and plants, which are the good habits you will want to cultivate and then there will be the weeds, the unwanted habits, which should be ripped out before they grow too large. Ben Franklin once said that it’s easier to prevent bad habits than to break them. Warren Buffet notes “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”
6. Permit yourself to break your routine. Routine and consistency are good, but sometimes the things that used to energize us can lose their effects. In that case, it is helpful to shake things up and interrupt your routines. Instead of going for a run every day, maybe you do a bike ride. When you deliberately take a break or challenge yourself with a new activity, it can reenergize your commitment. Travel is the ultimate activity because it forces you to do so many new things– figuring out how to navigate a city, where to explore, what to eat, and so on.
7. Check-in with your habits. It is also important to recognize that sometimes habits have their seasons. Maybe you were intentional about eating oranges every day for 6 months, but it is no longer serving you, so you can introduce another habit for another season in your life. Just because you decide to take one thing on, does not mean it is the thing you will do for the entirety of your life. Periodically check in with your habits to make sure it is the right match for where you are in life.
8. Reflect & celebrate. Evaluate your habits, what is going well, what is not, and what do you want to change? Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously review your behaviors and beliefs so you know you are spending time on the right things based on where you are. Comedian Chris Rock will test 100 jokes and record which bits went well in his notebook so he can repeat that specific behavior.
Reflections can happen at multiple levels, small daily reflections, weekly, monthly, and annual reviews so you can track your most important habits and measure your progress. Here is one way to reflect… on an Excel spreadsheet, write down a list of important things in your life, such as family, friends, and virtues you are cultivating. Across the top, list the days and columns to put yes or no if you did the things. At the end of the week, review your score. If you say your family is your top priority but they do not appear in your busy calendar and you have not checked their boxes, the reflection time allows you to figure out the inconsistencies.
Don’t forget to stop and take the time to celebrate. Give yourself new rewards daily, weekly, or monthly. Read something fun, go for a hike, book a massage, or do any preferable activity that will add the benefit of disrupting your routine.
Some change is hard, but when we can create systems, enlist help, reflect, and celebrate our wins, we can make the process even more comfortable. And if it is still hard, do them anyway, and that will be our road to success.
Quotes of the day: “All our life is but a mass of habits.” -William James
Q: When was the last time you enlisted help to enact positive change in your life? What worked? Comment and share below, we would love to hear from you!
As a leadership development and executive coach, I work with people to cultivate habits that serve them, contact me to explore this topic further.