Its almost 2017. Stop Struggling And Change Those Habits
Most of us struggle with maintaining habits that are good for us. This isn’t a controversial statement. It’s an understatement.
If we were awesome at it, we wouldn’t have had a INR 50 Crore self-help book market. Why is this the case, when we enjoy easier-than-ever access to information on what to do, how to exercise and how to eat?
There are plenty of reasons and justifications - we don’t have time, it’s expensive, etc.
I will use the term habit-formation a lot of times in this article. It always means good-habit-formation.
When I sat down and reviewed my own habits, they were appalling...I mean, there was/still is significant room for improvement. However, rather than exclaiming “Capricorns are stubborn - I will always have a problem changing!“ and going for another Shiv Khera adventure would be completely unsustainable. I took a step back and tried to figure out how I could approach this differently.
I realised that my biggest obstacle to habit-formation occurred when I had a lack of time and a loss of control. I think this holds true for most of us. As soon as I ran out of time - which happens to everyone, particularly when you throw commuting, family and a full-time job into the mix - my existing good habits also deteriorated.
Now, even an eternal optimist like myself understood that I could not exclude these two variables from life. However, I could take ownership of designing a system that allowed me to form good habits the vast majority of times. It’s not about losing weight or finishing all my pending reports for optimal performance. It’s about playing the long game and implementing a system that makes it easier to sustain a better lifestyle.
This is what I came up with.
What’s In A System?
To me, a system includes the components that help you consistently do the little things right, which will eventually lead to accomplishing bigger things. It involves planning, habits, rituals and automation.
First component : The big motivator
One of my biggest downfalls was not having a strong emotional WHY for a habit. Predictably, whenever I ran out of time or lost willpower or was really pressed for time, I would go with the quick, easy, devoid-of-any-long-term-gain option. For example, I must practice my guitar everyday if I am ever going to impress that cute girl in my Zumba class who sings like an angel. So I simply stopped my subscription to Netflix and put my guitar right in the middle of the living room.
I took away my access to my bad habit - binge watching Brooklyn 99 on Netflix - and made my good habit extremely obvious. I reduced the number of steps it took me to get to my good habit, made minimal effort.
There are some practical ways to do this:
Don’t make your habit wishes vague
One of the biggest flaws I had was that the habits I wanted to develop were very vague in my mind. When I told myself “I’m going to read more“ I thought that was a habit I was going to develop.
But was it really?
Stating to myself an intention - that’s what it really was - was great to make myself feel good but it didn’t actually help me take any action.
Our Default Behaviour Is Inaction
In order to make changes in our lives, we need to take action. This is going to take intention,energy and most of all specificity.
The more specific we are with what we want to do, the more likely we will do it. That’s one of the many reasons why New Year’s Resolutions don’t work - they are very vague intentions. They lack specificity.
This time around don’t say things like :
I’ll exercise more
I’ll read more books
That’s too vague, let’s reframe them to be more specific :
I will do 25 sun salutations every Monday,Wednesday and Friday in my balcony
Every night before I go to sleep I will read for at least 15 minutes
Every morning at 7 am I will put on peaceful music and meditate
See the difference ?
You want to get as detailed as possible. The more detailed it is, the higher the chance that you’ll take action.
Habits by themselves don’t motivate you
You might have seen this popular quote before
“Motivation gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going“
I don’t completely agree with that because it’s missing a key component. If it were true, then why do our habits fizzle out? Why do 95% of gym goers stop every year around February 1st ?
It’s because they are missing this crucial component: their WHY.
Logically you know :
You need to eat healthier to feel better.
You need to exercise more to stay healthy and also to feel better
That reading will make you smarter, more successful and will help you make more money
That spending less money and saving more is good for your retirement
They’re all logically sound and it usually helps you to get started, but it doesn’t keep you going. When you only have the logical connection, you’ll inevitably fizzle out. When you’re low on motivation or willpower, logic won’t help you. When you’re tired and low on energy, it doesn’t matter how good you want to look in the mirror. The logical connection isn’t strong enough to change your mind and get your butt off the couch.
We don’t always need more and more logic. We need to CONNECT the logic with what it means to us.
The ugly truth is that we usually take massive action once we hit a low point in our lives. You get fired. Your partner ends a relationship. You are alone one night and feel lonely.
That’s when the emotional part of you comes out and forces you to take massive action and it’s the hidden driver that keeps you going.