I know the title seems a little ominous, but it’s true. I do not know of a single person who has not failed at something in their life. Do you?
Today we’re going to talk about habits and why we all fail when it comes to making or breaking them.
“It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently.” ― Anthony Robbins
Humans are impatient creatures. We live in a society of instant gratification, next day delivery, fast diets and instant messaging, of fast food meals and make money fast recipes. This fast paced environment has led us into thinking everything should and can be attained quickly and if we can’t do so, it’s not working nor is it worth our time.
Lasting change does not work like that. Tiny progress over an extended period of time compounds into a long term transformation. Lacking evidence of said progress during that time is the number one reason people quit.
Humans are also ambitious creatures. “Tim” is not satisfied with his level of fitness. He also knows he should eat healthier. And maybe watch less TV. And read more books. And quit smoking. Drink less. Pick up that photography hobby he’s been meaning to since 8th grade. And in a burst of ambition, he will start doing all of this things, starting Monday.
Monday arrives. Tim groggily wakes up an hour earlier than he’s used to to go to the gym before work. He skips his usual McDonald’s breakfast for a salmon sandwich, because you know, all those healthy fats, and also gets a salad for lunch. Doesn’t go for that beer after work. He reads on his commute home. Only smoked 4 cigarettes today. Starts up a photography blog when he gets home, looks on Amazon for a brand new camera.
Monday was great. “I can do this!” thinks Tim.
Tuesday rolls around. Tim wakes up early, but muscle soreness starts creeping in. He still goes to the gym, but just goes through the motions. He’s really craving a cigarette after his workout, he’ll just cut a few more during the day. Breakfast is healthy, but gets a burger for lunch ’cause he just doesn’t have time. He forgot his book, so no reading today. The camera is too expensive for his budget at the moment, so no photography for the foreseeable future.
It’s Wednesday morning. Tim did not wake up for the gym. He was late on his way to work, so he popped into McDonalds, ’cause it’s faster. He forgot his book again. He really wants a pint of beer by the end of the day.
Raise your hand if you were ever like Tim.
People try to change all their bad habits at once. It never works partly because they only have so much willpower to get them going in the long run and partly because they do not take the proper time to plan their next steps. Then there is the next category who only plans but never executes.
1. Start small.
Pick one thing you want to change about yourself. Decide one action you can perform daily that is going to help you achieve that change. If you are feeling really ambitious and restless, pick two. Keep the next changes for after you’ve mastered these ones, let’s say in two weeks or so.
2. What gets measured, gets done.
Find a way of tracking your progress, be it weight loss, pages read, time meditating, etc. Mark down every time you’ve performed your new habit. Try not to skip a day, but even if you do once in a while, it’s OK, just do it tomorrow. Seeing a long winning streak will keep you motivated not to break it. Decide beforehand for how long do you want to do this. Be specific: a week, a month, half a year.
3. Make time.
This is where a lot of plans go wrong. People tend to forget they’ve already filled up their days with various activities. Your time is finite, so picking up a new habit will mean you have to give up something else. Choosing what that will be has a huge impact on your success of keeping the new habit. Gym for one hour less of sleep? Cooking your own healthy meals for an hour less of hanging out with friends? By deciding early on these expectations, you will be less likely to break your habit because you already know what your are getting into and have already agreed to it.
If you are trying to break a habit, you will be less concerned with the time element, as you simply need to replace it with a new, healthier habit.
As a challenge to myself, I’ve committed to exercising at least 30 minutes every day for a year. Let’s say I skip a few days over the holidays, while on vacation, if I’m sick etc. That will still leave me with more than 150 hours of exercise in a year. Combine that with a good enough diet, I will feel a lot better and lose some weight in a years time. But not tomorrow and probably not next week. In a year.
I just have to stick it out. And I won’t even have to do that for long. Because by the end of the month, I will get used to going to the gym, I will start feeling better about my body, I will have more energy, I will want to continue, because I’ve formed the healthy habit of going, and now, not going means I will have to break my habit, and I’ll feel uncomfortable about that. Now eating junk food feels counter productive, as I’m putting all this time in the gym, so I’ll cut some of the bad meals I’ve been eating. Maybe I’ll even start taking that extra yoga class.
It all starts to add up once you commit to one single change.
So change one thing today. And keep it going.
Have a eudemonic week!
Photo by Jonas Svidras.