In my last blog, we dipped our toe into the science of the habit. This time I’m going to give you some practical advice and show you how to begin to change a habit. In theory, you can achieve lasting change in just 5 steps but for it to work you should be ready, willing and able to give the process the time and effort it requires. Now we’ve cleared that up, let’s get on it!
Our lives are basically a sum of our habits – good and bad. We can’t live with them, we can’t live without them. The challenge is not so much how to get rid of them (because, as you know, we never will) but how to modify them in a way that’s achievable and lasting.
Too often our expectations are audacious and we want results instantaneously (if you’re one of those dieters who hops on the scales everyday you’ll understand where I’m coming from). Get over it, it’s not going to happen.
Forget ridiculous goals and forget overnight results. For you to change a habit there is just one thing you need to get on the path to success… willpower. A little word shouldering a big responsibility.
How many times have you heard people say ‘oh, I have no willpower!’? Everyone has willpower but it’s often overworked and undervalued. Like a muscle, it needs stretching to increase in strength but the more you use it, the more it can become fatigued… and this is when willpower fails.
Think of starting a new fitness regime; the more you use your muscles, the tighter they feel the day after. The pain is often bad enough to have you chucking the towel in but starting out small – increasing activity little by little – helps your muscles adjust and build. Stick with it and, eventually, they don’t feel tight anymore.
It’s the same approach with willpower – we need to build it up slowly.
5 steps to change a habit
My 5 steps to change a habit are inspired by James Clear, a behavioural psychologist, who (as an amateur weightlifter) also understands the importance of willpower for success.
1. Start off small
Give yourself a chance at success. Have you heard the saying, ‘eat an elephant one bite at a time’? Well, it’s the same premise here; you will get there if you start off small.
For example, if fitness is your goal and you’ve never run before start with a 5-minute jog first and build up gradually. Trust me, if you try to run 5k straight off, you’ll soon give up.
2. Build up slowly
What’s better? A 1% a day increase over 365 days, or a 30% increase in a month but quitting then going back to your old routine? It’s a no-brainer really.
Give your body and mind the time to become accustomed to your new habit and you will have a greater chance of it sticking.
3. Make it manageable
If you are committed to a 1% increase a day, you now have great momentum and you’ll be starting to see some fantastic results.
It’s important now to break your goals down into chunks. Let’s say you’ve signed up for a half marathon, you could chunk your habits into running 4 miles, 3 times per week and build it from there in preparation for the marathon.
4. Get back on the horse
I love this as it presupposes that we will all fail at some point. And, you know what? We will! Life gets in the way, sh!t happens, all conspiring to force us back into our old habits.
It’s important to prepare for this: don’t be too hard on yourself when it does (just look how far you’ve come!) and get back into your new habit quickly. It’s not failure, it’s just a blip.
5. Don’t run before you can walk
Remember, it takes between 3 and 8 months for a new habit to form – and stick. Keep to a pace where you can see gains gradually and not so fast that you falter and default back to your old ways.
Burnout is a danger here; you’ve given your all too soon and there’s nothing left in the tank
Are you ready?
And there you have it. I won’t claim it works every time, it’s not a miracle cure, but it can have a lasting, positive impact on so many aspects of your life if you’re willing to give it a damn good go.
Over the years I’ve worked with so many great people who have developed new, successful working habits as a result of my learning interventions. And yet, there are others who’ve adopted new habits only for a short while and without any long-term success.
When I design learning programmes for my clients, whether it be a coaching or leadership development program, I spend a significant amount of time supporting them in ways that allows them the freedom to adopt new methods and develop new empowering habits. But, in the end, it’s up to them.
If you’re interested in making a change – for good – why not get in touch?