If you read that and thought, “Yeah right!! If only it was easy to get into a new habit, I’d be doing it too..”, you’re not alone.
Habits are, well, habits.
The old ones we have are usually hard to break. New habits we want to form are usually pretty darn hard to follow through on. How often I’ve started a great new habit, only to succeed for about 2 days. Or a couple of hours, depending on the action I needed to take.
The thing is that we mostly rely on habitual behaviour to get us through our days. We’re not even aware of most of our habits as we drive to work on the same old road (and then wonder how we got to work safely because we have no recollection of the trip!), operate on automatic while we brush our teeth, clothe ourselves and make lunch for the next day.
Habits are important. They free up brain resources we need for other tasks. If we needed to figure out how to tie our shoe laces every single time we did it, we’d never get out the door. Habits help us to function, and they make available resources to plan, schedule, think things through, while we can continue to make dinner, drive to work or tidy the room.
Habits can be handy and helpful, or a huge hindrance (don’t you love alliteration?).
Let me give you an example.
I’ve fallen into the habit of reading Facebook every morning with my coffee. (Fallen is such a victim word yes, it implies I had no choice in the matter! The words we use are important). So let me rephrase that. I have chosen the habit of reading Facebook every morning with my coffee.
Often I spend an hour with nothing to show for it. Then, it’s suddenly too late to practice the HELPFUL habit I’m trying to nurture – my Power Hour. That’s when I read something inspiring for 20 minutes, mediate for another 20 and exercise for the final 20 minutes.
Habits can support us towards reaching our dreams and goals, and they can also severely hinder our progress.
In the 6 step GROWTH system I developed, Habits form an important part. It’s valuable to become very conscious of the habits we currently blindly follow. Then we can take stock, and decide whether they’re helpful on our goal journey, or a hindrance. We often need to make a conscious effort to nurture new habits that will support our goals.
How to go about Changing Habits?
As I said before – if it was easy, everybody would do it. One of the keys I believe, is to be kind with ourselves when we go through any kind of change. Let’s be real. Changing a habit that’s well ingrained is tough. Many years ago I read that it takes 21 days to form a new habit or make something a part of you. That’s unfortunately not true. It’s more like 66 as new research suggests.
We’re probably going to stumble along the way. Neural pathways in the brain have to change from the ‘default highway’ to ‘the tiny little path in the thick woods’ as we’re forming new habits. We want the new habit to become the ‘default highway’ – and for that to happen, we have to do the new thing over, and over, and over. Until we no longer have to think about it. It becomes automatic.
There’s a process involved and 3 key ingredients. We need knowledge, skill and desire to form a new habit. Knowledge is about the ‘What’ and the ‘Why’. Skill is the ‘How’ and desire is the ‘Want’ to do it. If any one of these ingredients is missing, we’re simply going to have a hard time to form a new habit.
Sometimes we know exactly why, how and what to do. We’re just not doing it. In that case, perhaps the desire to do it is not strong enough. There are ways to increase our ‘want’.
We also need to realise that in order to start a new habit, we’re probably going to have to ‘give up’ something else. Usually, we need to make sure that we give up something of a lower value/priority, for something of a higher value/priority. Or we need to make sure that we know what we’re going to GAIN when we implement the new habit so that the ‘loss’ doesn’t feel so significant.
Facebook is actually low on my priority list compared to writing a blog post, or working with my clients, or reading my inspiring material every morning. Yet I keep falling off the bus.
My power hour is not yet a firm habit for me – so the ‘default highway’ is still very easy to step back into. And I don’t remind myself often enough of the gains of my Power Hour.
As an side.. Ahem! This morning I succeeded in my Power Hour and felt so great that I was inspired to write this blog post. My new habit working FOR me, with plenty of gains.
A few Helpful Tips to Form a New Habit
- We need support to form new habits. It’s not a weakness to ask for help, it’s courageous. Accountability helps! Get the support of a friend, coach, mastermind group or some public way of declaring your intention for a new habit.
- Use this cool little app to help you shape a new habit: http://tinyhabits.com/
- Tie a new habit to an existing habit or action. For instance, if you want to start drinking 6 glasses of water a day, drink a glass every time you go into the kitchen and refill the glass right away, ready for next time.
Here are a few good questions to ask if you’re struggling to make a new habit stick:
- Why do I want to form this new habit (What’s in it for me?)
- Do I know exactly how to do this thing?
- Are there any red flags for me I need to be aware of? In my case – coffee in the morning is my ‘red flag’ that alerts me to be conscious of my next action. Do I unconsciously reach for my device, or rather for my inspirational book?
- Do I really WANT this new habit?
- What goal will the habit support?
- What will that goal do for me? If we tie the small actions we do every day to an overall goal that fulfil a need or value we have, it’s far easier to take the action.
- What am I willing to ‘give up’ for this new habit to form? I can be an attitude, an action, a result, a short term gain….
- How can I work through any fears or resistance I have when I think about what I might need to give up?
It’s usually the last 2 that bring up most of our ‘stuff’ – those limiting beliefs, fears, anxieties and the Parts of us that stand in our way.
If you need support with forming a new habit or working towards a goal and it feels like you’re in your own way, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Or – if you’re plain serious about making a new habit stick and you have given up trying to do it by your lonesome self, I warmly invite you to fill in a short questionnaire. Let’s have a chat to determine how I can best support you!