Over the years I’ve written a lot about the tactics of habit building.
Which is not that surprising considering my first introduction to the idea of self development was Tim Ferriss, the king of personal hacking.
Underpinning those strategies is the idea that building habits is hard. You need a game plan because otherwise you’ll fail.
Recently I’ve settled into some new habits with complete ease.
I’ve NEVER established new habits this easily.
And it’s got me wondering about habit formation.
Conventional wisdom would have that you map out the what, when, how, where. Define the habit specifically. Those previously mentioned tactics.
Stack the habit with an existing habit. Make the initial habit so laughably teeny, tiny that you have no excuse not to do it. All things I’ve talked about before.
But the ease I’ve started a daily meditation and journaling practice over the past couple of months has broken all of that convention. And for the record, the meditation is twenty minutes long and I’ll journal anywhere from one page to three or four. This is at least thirty plus minutes of my day.
So what’s different? And what can it teach us about what it REALLY takes to build new habits.
You have to WANT to do it.
It sounds super obvious and simple but so often we fail at habits because we’re trying to force something we have zero interest in.
The number of people I hear say they want to get fit so they’re going to run but they HATE running. Why would you do that to yourself?!
First question, do you actually want to get fit? I.e. is the outcome you’re working towards something you’re committed to? Do you care? How will it make a difference in your life?
Second question, do you actually want to run? I.e. is HOW you’re planning on achieving the outcome is something you enjoy? Could you do the activity just to do the activity, not just to get the outcome? If you will run because you like to run and getting fitter is a bonus then go for it!
I’ve been doing BBfit workouts two or three times a week for nearly two years now. I’ve never stuck with a fitness plan like this before. And it all comes down to actually enjoying the workouts. Even if I miss a few days, I’m amped to get back into it. And I can trust myself to return to the habit, something we’ll come back to in a minute.
Let go of perfection.
This is the complete antithesis of the suggested habit building tactics. Instead of defining a specific time, place, or anything else, I just do the dam thing.
I’m not concerned about doing these practices at a specific time. Or order.
If I miss a day, I just do it the next day. Get back on it and keep going.
The meditation, sometimes I’m seated, lying in bed, walking or driving in my car.
Sometimes I journal first. Sometimes I do the two practices back to back, sometimes I do them separately.
It’s all about getting it done in whatever shape it needs to take that day.
Which adds up to way less pressure.
Less pressure means less mental noise equals MUCH easier to get on and do the thing. You’re not getting tangled up in thoughts like, ‘well I missed the optimal time of day so I’ll skip today.’
You’ve actually got far fewer excuses when all that needs to happen is doing the habit. Yes or no, it’s either done or it’s not. If it’s not done, then do it.
Make a clear and conscious choice.
This one is from the habit forming playbook but you actually need to decide.
What is it that you’re doing?
You need to be clear on WHAT you’re doing.
I’m going to workout more is too vague. It’s a fluffy intention of maybe, someday, when, I’ll do a thing.
So what is it that you’re committing to doing?
I write morning pages.
I drink a bottle of water everyday.
I read before bed.
I go to yoga class.
Notice that it’s ‘I do a thing’, not ‘I’m going to do a thing.’ The latter is some point in the distant future. The former is here, today, I’m listening to a meditation track.
It’s a DECISION.
It’s about making enough decision (I journal), without getting into all the specifics (I write a future day, for a month from today, at 9.13am each day with a blue pen, in my pink notebook while sipping a coffee in my favourite window seat).
When your identity shifts, the habit sticks
What it really comes down to is the habit being part of who you are.
It’s the difference between someone who runs and being a runner.
It’s not a habit you’re trying to form or something that you’re working on.
It’s who you are.
It might not be as obvious and on the nose as you might think.
With my meditation and journaling practices, it’s not that I see myself as someone who meditates or journals. Surprise, surprise.
It’s actually that I see myself as a coach and business owner. These practices are essential to my success. Completing them each day is a reflection of my commitment to being the best coach I can be and creating the high impact business I dream of.
I’m a reader. I workout. I’m a business owner.
These are things I say easily and without hesitation about myself. My actions (engaging in the habits) then flows from those beliefs.
Here’s the truthbomb about ALL of this:
Habit formation is less about tactics and strategies and more about a mindset shift to believing you are the kind of person who does the thing.
When you get the mindset shift, then you do the habit.
Doing the habit builds evidence, strengthening the belief that you are the person that does the thing.
The belief gets stronger and stronger over time. Eventually that strength overflows into identity.
If reading this has you all excited about FINALLY forming those habits that just won’t stick, I have something for you. The reality is, your excitement is likely to wane and you’re going to try those habits again in the same way you’ve always done them (sorry to burst your bubble). The good news is my coaching can help clarify which of the points covered aren’t being hit by your current approach and find novel ways of approaching your habit. My coaching program lasts for three months which is PLENTY of time to reach that identity stage with your new habit.
Interested? Start by filling in my questionnaire. This will help us what habits might be worth building in our time together. And it gives up something to chat about in our complimentary consult. Looking forward to hearing from you!