This year I have been on a personal mission to learn more about human behaviour, self improvement, success and high performance. I’m fascinated by the idea that you can essentially practice, improve and master anything if you have the right systems. I’m constantly looking for ways to improve and challenge myself, both mentally and physically. One thing that keeps coming up again and again is the power of habits. Many expert coaches talk about this concept of cultivating powerful habits. 40% of the decisions that we make each day are habits, for better or for worse.
So I understand and accept that habits are critical for achieving any goal, but the question I want to know is HOW to make good habits. I want to understand why some people can easily stick to a new schedule or plan, whilst others fail within days. Why is it that some people can be incredibly self motivated, whilst others need constant external motivation? What is ‘will power’?
Well after almost a year of studying, reading and listening, here’s what I’ve learnt so far about the power of habits…
Firstly it’s important to understand that whatever your goal is, whether personal or professional, mental or physical, repetition is essential! Habits will only have an impact on your life when you repeat them again and again and again. Doing something once in isolation will have little to no impact at all. If you eat a big bowl of ice cream today, it’s not going to impact your life at all ,but if you eat a big bowl of ice cream again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, then eventually it’s going have a negative impact on your health. It’s not the ice cream that is the problem, it’s the repetition. You have to observe both the immediate outcome vs the longterm / ultimate outcome of your habits. So eating the ice cream today is favourable, (for obvious reasons) but the ultimate outcome is not.
The same thing applies when it come to creating positive habits too. As I said, this year I really wanted to learn more by reading and listening to audiobooks. I wanted to become a better reader and a better writer. So when I don’t feel like reading, I have to remind myself of the longterm goal. Sure, reading for thirty minutes isn’t going to have a remarkable impact, but reading for thirty minutes every single day most definitely will.
Often our habits reflect ideas about our sense of self too, and this is why it’s important to look at your daily habits. For example, if you get up and go out for a run at 6:00am four times each week. You are creating the identity of a ‘runner’. Each time you lace up your shoes and step out of your front door, you prove to yourself that you are a runner. You prove to yourself that you are self motivated, self disciplined and determined. When that positive habit later becomes a part of your lifestyle, it confirms the desired belief about yourself and this quickly becomes a part of your identity.
The initial intention and the repetition of behaviour is essential. That’s why I don’t like the term ‘fake it til you make it’ You can’t fake it, you can’t just talk about it. You could say the words ‘I am a runner’ one hundred times but it’s not true unless you actual take action and start running. You can’t fool yourself by ‘faking it’.
So how long does it take to create a new habit?
Let’s say for example that you want to stop bitting your nails, often people will ask, how long does it take for a new behaviour to become a habit? Well, some coaches will say 5 days, some books say 21 days, some courses will say 90 days. There is no concrete answer. It will be completely different for each of us. But they all agree on one thing, and that is that repetition and consistency is the key!
It’s helpful to break down every new habit into three parts…
Number 1 – WHAT is the habit? ie, Exercising regularly.
Number 2 – WHY do you want to create this habit? ie, to feel good and improve your physical and metal health.
Number 3 HOW are you going to implement this habit? ie, buy joining a running club or gym.
It’s so simple but once you have outlined all three of these things, then you have to reduce any friction or resistance that might prevent you from doing it. What are the barriers that could make it difficult? These barriers will later become your excuses once you lose that initial spark of motivation. Maybe the gym is quite far away from your house, maybe it’s too expensive, maybe you don’t have any training clothes to work out in. You need to eliminate these barriers as soon as possible. Make it as easy for yourself to get started. If you’re going to stop drinking fizzy drinks, make it easier to do so by ensuring that there are no fizzy drinks in your house. Buy yourself a new water bottle, fill it up and carry it around with you so that you’re not tempted to buy a drink when you go out. In summary, less friction will equate to less decision making, less excuses and less failure.
Something else that affects our daily habits is our surroundings and our peer group. If you’re constantly surrounded by people who read a lot, they might talk about the books that they are currently reading, they will suggest books for you to read and potentially even lend you theirs. If you are consistently surrounded by people who go out after work to a bar to drink, then you are more likely to go to the bar after work too. We all want to adhere to social norms and to fit in with others. It’s in our DNA to want to be a part of a tribe because it was once essential for our survival. Make sure that your tribe are displaying the desired behaviours that you hope to create for yourself.
Lastly, remember habits are not just actions, our words have power too. Think about the type of things that you say every day. Are your words positive, uplifting and encouraging? Are you putting yourself down or giving yourself excuses. Each time you say the words ‘I AM…’ you are declaring it as the truth.
I am tired.
I am fed up.
I am useless, I have no will power. etc
I am excited to get started.
I am going to work really hard.
I could talk about habits all day! I really do believe that if you create powerful positive habits, that you can change your entire life.
I recently interviewed a psychologist named Fiona Murden, to discuss habits and to learn more about will power. I’ll be sharing this fascinating interview on my podcast the Power Hour on January 1st 2019. If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast just head over to iTunes or Spotify and Search ‘Power Hour’ podcast.
I really hope that you found this post helpful, let’s all start 2019 with intentional and powerful habits!