“Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.” – Confucius
Bringing a lasting change seems like too much work. The word ‘change’ itself brings overwhelming emotions like depleted willpower, lack of motivation, or even feelings of guilt for failing to stick to your ‘change’ goals.
What if I told you that bringing lasting change wasn’t all that difficult – but just a bunch of mini decisions that you took every day? Take these mini decisions each day for long enough, and what do you get? Habits.
According to a study by Duke University, habits make 45% of your total behavior. The great thing about habits is that you don’t have to think about them. They become part of who you are. And soon enough, change becomes ‘normal’.
Most of the times, people get so stuck in worrying about not achieving their ‘change’ goals that they end up doing just that. For example, I want to grow my expertise in my chosen field and I know that I haven’t been reading enough. Now reading 8 books a month means I have to take out lots of time to read – this is the psychological impact of setting big goals.
The easy thing to do here is to break this goal down into small mini habits – like reading 5 pages a day. When I reach the 5th page, you think I’ll stop? No. I’ll continue on to maybe 10, 20 or more pages, especially if I’m enjoying the read. Done over a period of time and bam! It’s a habit. I don’t have to think or worry about it anymore. It just comes to me naturally. It becomes part of my routine.
This is true for everything we do in life. Whatever lasting change you want to achieve in life – whether it’s getting in shape, teaching yourself new skills, increasing your knowledge in your area of expertise or learning to make more money – break each goal down into a subset of behaviors. Do them frequently enough and no matter what your goal – you’ll see results.
Here’s how you can develop a habit that sticks
- Set a goal for 30 days and focus on developing one or at the most 2
- Make sure to write your goal down on paper and look at it every day
- Fully commit to your goal. If you think you’re one of those people who find it hard to stick to their goals – publicly commit to it. Find someone who helps you measure your progress each day and encourages you to keep going.
- Log your progress regularly.
- Remain publicly accountable – report on your progress each day.
- Reward your little successes.
- If you fail, that’s okay. Find out what went wrong and start again.
What is more important than your habits?
Literally, nothing. Habits are the foundation of the quality of your life. And if the foundations are weak, you will not be happy with the way you live. One major reason why people fail to create lasting change in their lives is that they try to do too much at once.
In other words, if your new habit requires more willpower than you can muster, you will fail. If your new habit requires less willpower than you can muster, you will succeed. This is why it is so important to start small, and increase gradually.
The achievable habits
Achievable habits are habits that are easy to follow through. If you think reading 10 pages each day is too much to do, keep a target for 5, or even 2. I can assure you that once you start, you won’t keep the book down after reading only two pages. Keep a target for 5 pushups each day, and I guarantee that your workout won’t stop at those 5. You will end up doing many more variations.
All great things start small
It is true for almost every wonderful thing around us. All great things start small. Richard Branson started Virgin with a student magazine. Some of my most favorite projects started out small – but turned into some of the best opportunities over a period of time.
I was fascinated by Dale Carnegie’s world famous book, ‘How to win friends and influence people.’ The opening gave me some food for thought. He says that the book took 15 years to complete – because it started as a lecture, turned into a leaflet, then into a series of booklets each expanding in size and scope, and then came the book. The entire process took 15 years to complete.
Do you see what I mean?
The challenge of ‘big’
The problem is that we interact with big ideas, big things, big companies, so frequently in our lives that we tend to forget how these big things started out. Whatever it is that you want to achieve in life; I suggest you take some time to sit down and break them down into small, achievable targets for each day/ week. No matter how scary the goal seems, broken down into small bits, it will be so much easier than you imagine.
Here’s how you can make your new habits stick;
First things first, the only way you will ever change something in your routine and habits is by recognizing the larger goal for which those habits are being developed. Otherwise, it will take a lot of willpower and effort to remain true to what you’ve decided for yourself.
Big names like Seth Godin, Tim Ferris, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, and many others rely on daily habits to achieve their biggest goals. These people understand the importance of good habits – and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do the same.
Were there any challenges that you faced when trying to bring a change you badly wanted? We would love to hear your stories.