Frankie sits patiently looking at his guardian, relaxed and contented. He lifts his paw and receives a treat in return. He places the paw down, spins a full 360 degrees to face his guardian again, only to receive another treat. He then rolls over on his back, promptly sits up again, and is rewarded with his final treat. With that, he barks sharply and walks away, thinking to himself, “Easy way to get treats!” That little dance has become his morning and evening habit. He does it because he wants the treat.
Good habits lead to great outcomes. Bad habits carry exponential costs that are only evident over time. Many people usually can differentiate between an obvious good or bad habit. Installing a good habit or getting rid of a bad one is not easy. Have you ever tried to introduce a good habit successfully and failed to sustain it long term? A diet, maybe? For some, the mere introduction of a good habit is a struggle, much less succeeding in the integration or the sustenance of that habit. Why and how do some people succeed and others fail? Is it the technique? Is it the environment? Is it genetic (some people are born more determined than others)? The secret lies in Why.
It is usually people who have a compelling reason or a massive ‘Why’ that are able to overcome the inertia of their lives and start changing. Without a ‘Why’, it is extremely difficult to change even if all the opportunities, techniques, and tools are present. There simply isn’t a reason (literally, no ‘why’) to do anything different. It is only when one either wants to avoid massive pain or desires extreme pleasure when he awakens and decides to change. That decision, the ability to stimulate the mind to make that decision, is key. Decisions, not conditions, create your destiny. Once the decision to change, to create a new empowering habit, or to discard an old disempowering habit is formed, then techniques may help to start and sustain the change.
The problem with most people is that they are usually at a place where they know they do not want to be, or knowing that they can be at a better place. However, they are not that much in pain as well to stimulate change. If there was a scale of 1-10 where 1 is extreme pain and 10 is intense pleasure, most people are at 4-5, where they know there is a 10 possible and want to get there but they are not at a 1 where the extreme pain will drive them forwards. So they stick around and stay in no man’s land. Start with your ‘Why’ if you are wanting to create change, whether it is starting a new habit or getting rid of an old one. With a big enough ‘Why’, you will overcome any ‘How’.
After finding your compelling reason (remember, it must be compelling if not, you will lack the emotion/power to continue when the going gets tough and change is always tough!), there are few techniques that may help you succeed.
- Make it Obvious (or not obvious) – Visual cues are the most powerful so make it obvious in your environment. For example, if you want to start daily morning yoga/meditation/pilates, you can lay the exercise mat out already so it reminds you when you see it. If you want to reduce/stop watching television, hide the television behind a screen or cupboard so you will not see the screen.
- Make it Attractive (or unattractive) – Develop rituals that will help. Start a new habit and reward yourself after you have completed the habit. For example, your reward for exercising is watching an episode of your favourite program or keeping your space tidy is your favourite biscuit.
- Make it Easy (or difficult) – Never make a habit you want to start too hard to do, make it easy such that you do not feel any difficulty in doing it. Once it gets hard, stop. It is more important to start the habit at this point than to get it perfect. You cannot improve a habit you do not have. Or make it difficult to do a habit that you want to break. For example, if you want to stop snacking at night, simply don’t have any snacks in your house. You will not be able to snack unless you go to the shop.
- Make it Satisfying (or dissatisfying) – We are more likely to repeat a behaviour when the experience is satisfying. Change is easy when it is enjoyable. Have fun with your habit. What is rewarded is repeated. Be sure you reward yourself with your good habits. What is punished is avoided. Get your friends to support you in getting rid of your bad habits. That is why Pointing and Calling is effective as it brings your subconscious into consciousness.
All these techniques will count for nothing if you do not have a ‘Why’ or your ‘Why’ is not compelling or strong enough. Have you found your ‘Why’? The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit. When successful people fail they rebound quickly. Keep in your foremind why you are doing or not doing this. It not only gives you the strength and power to push on whether it is continuing a new habit or discarding an old one, it also provides clarity for your life, your essence of being and tells you your self-identity.
Remember that being motivated and curious counts for more than being smart because it leads to action. Frankie performs his habit because it is obvious (he will get a treat), attractive (treats are delicious!), easy (all within his doggy limits), and satisfying (he fills his need for treats!). Do your habits reaffirm the sort of person you want to be?
‘Going to the gym for five minutes may not improve your performance, but it reaffirms your identity.’ – James Clear