I get it January of the New year and a rush to get those goals underway. How will we get there if we don’t get those goals locked away.
What if I told you there was a better way than setting unrealistic goals that you don’t achieve and leave you feeling like a failure.
What if I told you creating habits over goals are the way to go. The quality of our lives depends in the quality of our habits. Year after year we have the same goals and we get the same results. You know the drill – Jan 2 you are at the gym but by the time January 30 rolls around, the gym is looking very empty.
Goals are often about the results we want to achieve whereas habits and systems are about the processes we set up to lead to these results.
For most of us we get caught up in the goal rather than developing the systems.
A change in your habits can guide your life to a very different place. One of the things about habits is they all come from our decision to be better. Bad habits though can cut you down as quick as good habits build you up.
Say this year you wanted to eat better you don’t start out just being motivated to eat better. You think about the person you will become when you eat better. A healthier version of yourself. You might lose weight, get fitter, your blood work might come back into normal range. You’ve tried before how can this time be different. Well behind every action we do is a system of beliefs. What we notice is that to get good habits can become part of our identity. So for us to get true habit change we have to have identity change. For example if you have always been overweight you identify yourself as always going to be over weight. Until you can change that identity you will be always over weight.
James Clear in his book, Atomic Habits talks about changing our habits is like an onion.
The first layer is change our outcome.
The second layer is change your process and the third layer is change your identity.
Our old identity will sabotage us every time.
If nothing changes we will fall into the same pattern over and over again. Forming habits happen on a feedback loop and if nothing changes, nothing changes.
Making good habits is a two part process:
- Decide the person you want to be
- Prove that you are that person with small wins
You have a choice in every moment to chose the identity you want to reinforce today. Going back to the weight loss example. Cake in the office whether you choose to eat the cake and be the person you have always been or don’t eat the cake and be that healthier version of yourself.
Habits matter because they help you become the person you want to be.
Habits are best when they become automatic. Like brushing your teeth before you go to bed. Most of us don’t even think about that habit.
When they are automatic behaviours it frees up our brain space for something else that is important to us.
Building a habit
Building a habit happens in four steps. These four steps are responsible for every habit
The four steps are cue, craving, response and reward:
- Cue initiates the behaviour.
- Craving is the motivation behind the habit
- Response it delivers the reward
- Reward then satisfies our craving and reinforces the behaviour.
So I have put this information to a habit that I have and I have changed the behaviour.
Of a night time after dinner we always have a cup of tea (that’s my cue). The craving for me is then to have a piece of chocolate (thats the Craving), The response is when I go to the fridge to get the chocolate and The reward is me eating the chocolate.
So every habit is initiated by that cue so now rather than have a cup of tea i have gone for a walk because eating chocolate every night is the identity I want to have of myself.
Another one would be you have to take supplements before bed. Place the bottle in the bathroom so that when you brush your teeth you will get the cue to do so. or the last example could be you want to eat more fruit and vegetables but you are too busy to go and buy it, get it home delivered so that way you won’t run out of time and you will get the healthy benefits you crave.
To rid yourself of a bad habit it’s best to cut it off at the source and eliminate the cues of that behaviour. An example of that is I’m a scroller on my phone so to get work done I have to put my phone in another room or in a drawer.
If junk food is your habit, don’t buy it so you don’t see it sitting in your fridge or pantry.
How long does it take to form a habit?
Doing one habit (action) over and over leads to physical changes in our brain. Our brain actually gets bigger. We need to keep doing these repetitions for these actions to stick. Most of our bad habits are repeated over and over so we need to put the reps in (like my tea and chocolate) to create that new habit. Most of us start a new habit and don’t see immediate results and then we stop. Habits need to persist long enough to be automatic.
Keeping our habits on track
Habits need to be enjoyable for us to stick to them. Choose a habit that suits you, not other people. As time goes habits become boring and that is when many of us give up. Don’t aim for it to be perfect.
Have a habit tracker – Fitbit, food diary, Strava or a calendar that you cross off every time you do the activity. If you want to be successful at a habit research shows us that you will be more successful if you track the habit.We are more likely to keep motivated if we see ourselves making progress. Tracking also keeps us focused on the process rather than the results.
What happens if you lose consistency with your habit. Show up for yourself for that person you want to be. It is not an all or nothing scenario sometimes life gets in our way. Don’t miss twice otherwise the is a new habit.
Get and accountability partner. Knowing that someone else is watching is a huge motivator. We are all less likely to let someone else down.
With goals there are no control over them with habits you can see we are empowered as we have the choice to decide what we want to do every moment of every day. We also need to know that mastery takes patience and we will fail at some habits we just need to look at our cues, our cravings, our response and rewards and re-adjust. What matters is your continued action to make progress and the habit will become automatic.
In 2020 I wish you lots of great habits so you can be the best version of you, you can be.
If you need more help with your heath habits get in touch for a free 15 minute GUT HEALTH ASSESSMENT.