When I turned 50 I found myself thinking of the changes I wanted to make in the areas of my life that could do with some work. I’m sure many of you can relate to the reflection and planning that happens when we hit certain milestones in our lives. It happens on birthdays, at the start of a new year or a new job or relationship, and also with a health scare or some other form of traumatic experience.
With 2020 just around the corner, many of you may have goals or intentions for the year ahead. Some of these may be the same goals you had last year, and the year before, and the year before that. Studies show that many of us have the same goals for around 10 years before we actually succeed at them. And many others simply give up on ourselves way before that and tell ourselves stories of our incompetence or laziness that simply aren’t true.
I’ve worked long enough as a coach to know that the primary reason we fail at our goals is because we do not know how to set the right habits for success. Remember, we’re creatures of habit. For most of our waking hours, we operate through the subconscious mind which takes up next to no energy. This allows us to perform our roles and responsibilities, make decisions and initiate plans, and have the energy and willpower to do the things that are important to us.
The way to stick to our goals and creating lasting change is to set habits that build on what’s working instead to trying to reengineer our lives altogether.
Unless you have all the time and energy in the world to work on your goals, you’ll tire yourself out if try and create massive change, especially when things get tough and you face the inevitable challenges of life. That’s when you may simply revert to old habits and give up on your goals before you see much change – or any at all.
If you’re looking to create change in any area of your life, begin with ONE SMALL HABIT that can help you. You’ll be surprised how a small change can lead to positive feelings of competence and confidence, how it can initiate an upward spiral that also affects other areas of life, and how it also builds the momentum to add to the habit and make consistent change.
To identify this small habit, here are 2 things to keep in mind:
Identify what’s working
And see how you can “stack” onto it. If your goal is to eat healthier, see where you’re already doing so. Maybe you do a good job of it at breakfast, with a fresh smoothie to start your day. You can build on that by packing yourself a container of carrots and celery for a mid-morning snack while you’re chopping the veggies for your breakfast smoothie.
Identify what’s NOT working
And see how you can replace it with a positive habit. In the healthy eating example, maybe the unhealthiest part of your meals is the afternoon snack you have to save yourself from dozing off at your desk. What about replacing that coffee (and the inevitable doughnut that comes with it) with a 10-minute powernap to truly energize yourself?
To stick with this small habit, here are 4 things to remember:
Remove the obstacles
So you don’t waste energy arguing with yourself. It’s far more tiring to resist the double chocolate cake sitting in your fridge (which you’ll likely end up having it for a midnight snack anyway!) than it is to not have it there in the first place! Find all the unhealthy foods you keep stacked away in the kitchen cabinets or the refrigerator and get rid of them asap!
Be prepared for the unexpected
By creating If/Then plans that keep you on track. Real life is full of temptations – like the plate of cookies your colleague casually brings by to your office, or the surprise dinner invitation to a restaurant that has your favorite cheesy risotto. Instead of feeling deprived and unhappy for not being able to indulge, have an If/Then plan that doesn’t throw you off-track. For example, IF my colleague offers me a cookie, THEN I will (have just one, or say thank you but I’m trying to eat healthy…)
Reward yourself for success
Because you’ll want to repeat the habit. Rewards, however small – a tick on a to-do list, a moment of savoring or sharing your success with your cheerleaders, activates a dopamine high in your brain that makes the behavior addictive. Fyi, that’s how addiction works, whether its to drugs, drinking, food or shopping. There are many apps that can help you by giving you a star or maintaining a “streak” – anything that makes you feel good (and is good for you!)
Be kind to yourself when you fail
Because you will – it’s part of the journey. Most of us tend to beat down on ourselves when we fail. We turn into our own worst enemy and say things to ourselves we won’t want to be caught saying aloud. If that’s you, learn to relate to yourself in a kind voice. Be understanding – after all change is hard. When you can provide yourself with the safe space of compassion, you open yourself up for learning, for reflection, and for the courage to continue on the journey.
Ultimately, habits matter because they help you become the person you wish to be by literally changing the structure of your brain. Quite literally, you become your habits.
So here’s 3 questions for you:
Who do you want to become?
What one small habit are you going to work on?
What steps will you take to help yourself succeed?