The end of the 1st quarter is already upon us and just the other day I was rumbling on about the narrative…. “… you know how in the 1st quarter business is very quiet…” and then before that I had been lamenting on how the 1stquarter had had its fair share of tragedies and incidents. Just that week I came upon these two statements on Facebook;
‘When we find ourselves in the same situation repeatedly as a result of our conditioned responses, we must stop and do a new thing. The situation may look different. The route we take there may be altogether different. The lesson we must learn does not change. Get honest! Pay attention! Change what you do to create a change for yourself!’- Iyanla Vanzant
And the other one; ‘Today, in my reflections on the treadmill, realized how blessed I have been in the past year. Exactly a year ago my mentor quoted the cynically true words by Jim Rohn: “if you will change, everything will change for you”. They have never left my conscious mind since. What a promise. I committed to change, however uncomfortable. As a matter of fact, change is uncomfortable that’s why many avoid it and not surprising that you find crowds in the world of mediocrity. So here’s good news for ya, if you would change, everything will change for you. The stuff that you want is not in your comfort zone, you gotta grow to access it and that’s an indirect way of saying you gotta change my friend.’- Xolani Ndlovhu
These statements jolted me out of my pity party and sent me into deep introspection. I asked myself what it was that I continuously did with my life that gave me the same negative and mediocre results. Sometimes the solutions to our problems do not lie in the external forces of our lives like the economy, politics and society, they are within us. So as I was deep in thought I remembered how I have achieved self-mastery and success in some areas of my life. Like a chump, I used struggled for years trying to change my self-limiting habits. I’d start an exercise program or diet with unrestrained optimism, probably a dozen times. I’d tried waking up early, reading more, writing daily, getting out of debt, watching less TV, and failed at most of those.
It feels horrible when you can’t stick to good habits, and I constantly felt bad about myself. What I didn’t realize back then, until I started successfully changing my habits, is that it wasn’t a matter of me not having enough discipline. It was a matter of doing habit change all wrong. I was making some big mistakes when it came to habit change, and once I fixed those mistakes, I got immensely better at sticking to changes.
If you’re struggling with habit change or seem not to be getting to where you want in your life, here are some of the mistakes I used to make (and have revisited), I hope that it will help you too.
Not changing your habit environment. We often rely completely on willpower to stick to habit change, but in practice that rarely works. Much better is changing the environment around you. Make it easy to do your habit, by putting your running shoes next to your bed and sleeping in your running clothes, for example, or having lots of healthy food around you, or writing out small steps you can take in your spare time to reduce debt. Make it hard to do the things you don’t want to do, by getting rid of all the junk food in your house or setting up accountability with friends with a big consequence for missing exercise or eating fast food, or put your TV in the closet or unplug your router and give it to someone to hold for a couple hours. Be smart and figure out how to change your environment so your habit succeeds, and if it fails, change your environment some more.
You expect comfort. Habit change is by its nature uncomfortable, but most of us want to do the same things we’ve always done and never be uncomfortable. It’s why most people don’t exercise, because they dislike the discomfort. If you allow yourself to be open to discomfort, at least a little at a time, you’ll be less likely to quit. Don’t like running? Just do a little of it, and be willing to push through a little discomfort. What you learn is that there’s nothing wrong with being uncomfortable, and this becomes a superpower for changing any habit.
You don’t start small. Most people are optimistic and try to make too big a change. If you start small, the discomfort of change isn’t overwhelming. If you start small, you overcome the problem of inertia and not getting started. You also overcome the problem of burning through all your enthusiasm, or using up your willpower reserves. You make it impossible to say no, impossible to fail, if you start small. Some examples: pray and meditate for 2 minutes, just get out the door and run for a minute, eat 1 vegetable a day, smoke 1 time less per day.
You have unrealistic fantasies about the habit. When we start a habit change, it’s usually because we have some kind of picture in our heads about how great our lives will be once we make this change: we’ll be healthy and fit and sexy, our lives will be uncluttered and simple and beautiful, we’ll be happy. Unfortunately, changes in reality are pretty much never as we fantasized about, and so we become disappointed and discouraged. A better approach is to realize that these fantasies or ideals aren’t true, hold onto them loosely, and instead to an approach of curiosity: what is it like to change? What is discomfort like? How can I be happy in each step along the way, instead of only at my goal?
You don’t have accountability. One of the best ways to change your habit environment is to set up accountability. Create a challenge and tell people about it. Set a consequence for failure — I’ve asked a friend to throw egg in my face if I didn’t stick to a change, for example. Join an accountability group. Report daily. Ask them to not let you fail and slip away. The accountability will help keep you on track when all the other things fail.
If you can fix these habit mistakes — and they’re fairly simple to fix — you’ll be increasing your odds of success a dozen fold at least. These fixes changed my life and before this quarter is over I am revisiting them again so that in 2016 I will not have the same narrative.