Choose your habits wisely

As humans, we are creatures of habits and as we get older, the more entrenched in our way of doing things we become, unless we make a conscious effort to break and change bad habits and foster better ones. 

Luckily there is a plethora of material at our fingertips on how to go about changing our habits for the better, but one thing is paramount – you need to approach it incrementally, you can’t expect to completely change your habits overnight. Instead, you need a good dose of patience and perseverance and the expectation that your efforts will compound over time. 

This philosophy is reflected and best described in the book “Atomic Habits – An easy and proven way to break old habits and build new ones” by James Clear. 

As Clear states, “If you were able to improve by 1% each day for an entire year and those gains compound, then you will end up 37 times better by the end of the year. And if you were 1% worse, you would whittle yourself almost down to zero”. 

And although we all want to embrace radical transformation in at least one aspect of our lives (such as getting fit, learning a new skill at work, becoming better at presenting, becoming a better leader) it unfortunately is a long process than we’d necessarily like it to be.

As we are all on a journey of self-reflection and improvement these days (hopefully and if you aren’t you ought to have a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself ‘why not’?) small habits are already transforming us all each and every day, with their compounding effects. So the question is – are your habits good or bad. What ones do you want to eradicate and what ones do you need to improve? 

There are four distinct processes or steps involved in forming good habits, as outlined by Clear;  

  1. Noticing 
    When it comes to sticking to something to create good habits, many people think they lack motivation or willpower. Yet what they are really lacking .. is clarity. Instead of waiting to ‘feel like’ being a better leader, or doing some exercise, you need to have a dedicated plan of action.

    A plan that means you will be committed to doing something, no matter what. Whether you feel like doing it, or not is beside the point. Chances are if we wait until we feel like doing something that feels like a chore, we will choose not to do it. Instead of “I’ll start the diet on Monday”, start right now.

    Clear suggests taking the decision making out of the equation but pre-specifying when, where and how you are going to do something. Clear suggests having a failure post mortem – spend time developing a narrative around envisioning what happens in 6 months if you don’t do half an hour of exercise each day or if you don’t commit to the hour each week of self development classes.

    The process of seeing the flip side of not dedicating the time, can be an excellent motivator to stay on track. 
  2. Wanting 
    Our physical environment has a strong impact on your ability to pursue your habits. You can design your environment to make your good habits easier and bad habits hard. According to Clear “many of our desires are shaped because we have an environment that has shaped us in that way”. 

    Want to read a book to help develop a particular skill, have the book on your bedside table and remove devices from your room at night. What to do more meditation, sign up to a meditation class with a friend so you are accountable if you pull out. In fact, this step is essential as it is very hard to stick to creating better habits in a negative environment that doesn’t easily allow for it. 
  3. Doing 
    Any outcome you want to achieve is just a point along a series of repetitions. The more reps you put in the more likely you are to achieve that goal. But instead of focussing on the finishing line, optimise on the starting line. Take it one step at a time. 
  4. Liking 
    Figure out how to bring the reward into the present moment. The best way to change long term behaviour is with short term feedback. Take a calendar and any day you do your task, put an X on that day. At some point you will have a chain or a pattern and your goal can become not to break that chain, so you get to the end of the calendar year and you have “X’ many “Xs”. By measuring your progress, you get a reward, in the moment, almost like a dopamine hit. 

Transformational change can happen habit by habit. It’s not the things you do once or twice that define you, it’s the things you do time after time, week after week, year after year. These are the habits that become evidence of who you are – and each time you practice, you accumulate evidence for that belief about yourself. True change is identity change; the goal is not to read a book, it’s to become a reader. As Clear says “If you can change your habits, you can change your life”. 

If your leadership team could do with my help in 2024, please get in touch today, I’d love to hear from you.

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