Everyday we make the choice to align with the type of person we want to become.
Whether your goals are fitness related, weight loss, starting a new project… the method is the same.
To achieve something we don’t have now, we need to make changes. Unfortunately nothing comes by just wishing.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. But it needs to be thought through.
What type of person do I aspire to be? What does successful me look like?
Is my lifestyle aligned with what I want to become? What needs to change?
“The difference between who you are and who you want to be, is what you do.”
- Bill Phillips
We are the sum of what we do and a lot of our lives are made of habits
A study from Duke University in 2006 showed that about 45% of our everyday behaviours are automatic.
Almost half of what we do is dictated by actions we’re barely aware of. It might be worth having a look at what we actually do?
What habits in my current life are not aligned with what successful me would do?
Always late? Poor diet? Smoking? Short nights? If you are honest with yourself, you know the things you do that are slowly but surely taking you away from your goal.
We can't climb two mountains at once.
It is great to have many goals, but trying to tackle everything at once will just result in feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task. We want to make sustainable changes, not take a whole bunch of new year resolutions that will last for two weeks.
Choose a change you can realistically stick to on a daily basis, and do it. Today. And tomorrow. And the day after. Once you do it daily without really having to think about it anymore, choose something else from your list.
If we take one small step, then another, then another, and keep going, before we realise it we are miles away from where we started.
What could you do every day to be a step closer to the person you want to be?
How to change a habit
We can start playing with implementing new habits without knowing the mechanism behind them, but roughly knowing about how they work can be helpful, especially when doing the hardest: shifting old habits.
Habits are created by the brain to save energy and they are stored quite deep into its structure. So saying that old habits are not easy to break is an understatement. Going cold turkey would require an extreme amount of willpower to summon every day - for a long period of time. Modifying a habit will be more sustainably successful than trying to cut it off. If we keep some elements of the habit cycle, the change will be easier to adapt to.
Charles Duhigg identified that habits function on a loop made of a cue that triggers a routine that leads to a reward.
The first step is to identify the elements of your habit cycle.
The cue can be almost anything, a time, a place, something you see, an emotion ‘when I feel a certain way, I do that thing’. What triggers the urge?
The routine - that’s the action of your habit, the automated behaviour you want to change.
The reward can be a bit less obvious. What is the craving motivating your behaviour about?
The reward can be mental, physical or emotional. What are you getting from the routine? How does it make you feel? More relaxed? Safe? Distracted? Reassured? Energised?
"If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same."
- Charles Duhigg
What different routine could create a similar reward?
Example: I used to snack at work - a lot.
The cue is “I am working, I haven’t had a break for a while, suddenly I stop and the craving appears”.
The routine is
The reward is “I am now distracted, there is something in my stomach, and I also gain from a potential energy rush”.
I changed the routine to “I drink water and have 5mn on Facebook or leave my desk to make tea/coffee”. Yes, it is less appealing than a chocolate bar, but because it ultimately answers the essence of my craving, it is far less taxing than trying to just willpower through it.
Create a good habit
The habit loop can also be used to add positive behaviours to our daily lives.
I recently took the habit of making my bed in the morning because it gives me the satisfaction of a small accomplishment to start my day, and also because it feels neater when I come back.
I never used to care about my bed being made but I have now done it often enough that I “crave” that satisfaction when I last glance at my bedroom before I leave. Eventually, it is going to become unconscious.
You can also build on a habit you already have.
For example the first thing I do (cue) when I arrive at work is I have a coffee. I am already craving for it each morning so it makes a handy pre-existing reward. All I had to do is insert my new routine right before: have a glass of water.
Every change you make to your habits means that you are doing something everyday that brings you a bit closer to where you want to be.
Whether that change is as radical as getting rid of a smoking habit or as simple as adding a glass of water to your day, you are stepping closer towards your goals.
Small actions can make big ripples. Dream big, start small, but start today.