It’s our daily habits that make the biggest difference in whether we achieve our goals or not. They can be our greatest help or our biggest hindrance.
Habits are simply behavior we do regularly, automatically and often unconsciously. When something becomes a habit it saves us energy as the behavior becomes automatic and no longer requires mental effort. For example, it is unlikely you need to think too hard or exercise huge amounts of willpower to brush your teeth in the morning or put your seatbelt on when driving. If we can develop habits that are aligned to our goals, we also can also save the need exercise so much self-discipline.
Setting clear goals is important, however, you have only taken the first step if you don’t also look to establish habits that are aligned to your goals. Goals give us direction, but if you really want real change in your life your need to start small, by working on your daily actions. A goal might be to loose 20 kilos, but it’s our daily habits of such as walking each day, and not snacking in between meals that are going to see us nailing the goal.
“Motivation is what gets you started; Habit is what keeps you going.”
– Jim Ryun: Author and Professional Athlete.
How to make your habits work for you?
1) Be aware of your habits – I often ask my coaching clients to spend a week being aware and recording their habits. I also encourage you to think about the activities you regularly do. Do you get out of bed in the morning and go for a walk or hit the snooze button twice and then check Facebook before starting your day? It’s amazing how many of our behaviours we often don’t realise have become habit.
2) Determine habits to make and habits to break – Once you have conducted a stock take of your habits, compare these to your goals. Which habits are supporting the achievement of your goals and which could be the cause of you failing miserably? Create a list of habits to make and habits that need to be need to be eliminated.
3) Build good habits into your daily routines – Once you are clear on the habits you want to make, schedule time to undertake your regular ‘habit building’ activities. Look for your most productive times and schedule the habits into time when you are more likely to have energy and motivation. It might be that for you, the end of the day after a busy day at work is not the time to put in the energy to establishing a new habit.
Remember to start small and don’t try to do everything at once. The best way to form habits is to make small changes that we can quickly learn and can quickly become automatic. These tiny rituals that we repeat on a regular basis, is what going to make an enormous difference.
2015 is my Year of Good Habits. So far I have integrated 8 new productive habits into my life over the last 4 months. How did I do this? One habit at a time. Once a desired behaviour no longer required any work. (because it has become automatic) I then started working on the next productive habit.
It does take some time and effort to develop a new habit, but remember once you do, it will take little to no effort to maintain.
I also recommend that you review your progress on establishing good habits regularly. You may have to tweak your habits as you go, to ensure they are realistic and to check that they are having the desired impact on the realisation of your goal/s. For example in an effort to increase productivity, I made it a habit not to watch TV during the week. Interestingly, I found this had the negative impact on my productivity as I going to bed ‘wired’ with my brain buzzing with the activities of a productive evening and I couldn’t get to sleep. The next morning I would wake exhausted. I had to tweak this habit to watching ½ hour of TV before bed in order to unwind, which I’m pleased to report is working a treat.
4) Break a habit by replacing a habit – It’s easier to replace a habit than to break a habit. Most bad habits meet a need: attention, stress relief, boredom etc. When tackling a bad habit it is helpful to look at what else you can do to meet the need. For example, Shelly had a goal of feeling more in control at work, but she had gotten into the bad habit of checking her work emails on the train ride into the office and letting her inbox determine her priorities for the day. With some work she replaced this habit with spending the train ride reviewing her priorities and goals and determining 3 key actions she would do in the day that would have a positive impact on her goals. Not surprisingly this new habit had a significant impact on her performance at work and she achieved her goal of feeling more incontrol.
Many also find that their ‘I will’ power is stronger than their ‘I won’t’ power. That is, they are more likely to be successful when they commit to positive actions than when they focus prohibitions. I recommend flipping a bad habit to a positive action. For example I wont check my emails before I get out of bed each morning can be reframed to I will start each day with 10 deep breaths and a shower.
5) Get support. The role support plays cannot be underestimated. At STAR International Consulting we have a monthly support group and Facebook Group to offer regular support to people in achieving goals and developing success strategies and habits. This regular support has been a key factor in our members’ success. Support does not have to be formal though, ask a friend to help keep you accountable to improving your habits. There are also some great Apps designed to help in improving habits. One of my favourite is StickK a free web-based service, which gets you to create a commitment contract. You report in daily and for each day you don’t stick to your habit goal and money is donated to a charity (often one you oppose) if you are unsuccessful.