“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Will Durant
Over the last three years I have successfully formed quite a few life changing habits. I started reading, and read 52 books last year. I started meditating, at some points doing 1-2 hours a day and completed two 10 day retreats during my time in Thailand. I started writing. This blog you’re reading wouldn’t exist if I didn’t. While I’m happy to have added these habits to my life, maintaining them has been quite difficult.
When I started these habits I was in a good environment to create new habits. I was living in Thailand with a lot of free time and low stress. Over the last 9 months things have flipped. I have started my own coaching business in Melbourne. It’s been a busy ride and some habits which I know benefit me have taken a hit. What was easier to put in place last year has been left behind this year because I don’t feel like I have time to do it.
In the last 2 months I have been extremely busy. Working full time I decided to take on an internship position at one of the top gyms in Melbourne (5th Element Wellness). This really left me with no time during the week and over the course of 6 weeks things started slipping. I stopped meditating, found it hard to shop and food prep and small tasks like decluttering were neglected.
I realised that I needed to start really small if I wanted to restart the habits that were neglected. Instead of doing 20 minutes of meditation, I felt like I didn’t have time so I skipped it.
My new habit is to sit for 5 minutes. It may seem like too little to you but it’s working. I am back meditating daily for the past 3 weeks. After successfully nailing this for two weeks I moved onto another habit that slipped – writing.
My tiny habit for writing is ‘write 100 words a day’. Some days I write more than 100 words, some days exactly 100 but every day I am writing. This is huge and this is why I am so grateful that I have been exposed to this method. In the past I wouldn’t know how to restart. If I used to write 500 words then I should restart with 500 words right?
Why starting small works so well
I was at a powerlifting workshop a few weeks back and the coach (who is an Australian record holder in a few lifts) told us how he rehabs with injuries. He gets moving as soon as possible and starting with lots of reps with just the bar. This is a guy who squats over 300 kilos. He still starts with a 20kg bar and adds 2.5 – 5kgs each week until he starts feeling stronger.
We all have big ideas and goals but we want it all now. Look at your own life. I bet there’s something you want to achieve with your career or body but you still haven’t started. It seems like too much work or is too daunting. Monday or the 1st of the month is when you’ll start or maybe even the 1st of January.
When a task feels like it’s too much effort, we resist and switch off. It scares us and we end up not doing it. When I would think about writing a 1000 word blog post, I’d think about how long it was going to take, I’d research the main ideas but then feel overwhelmed, feel time restricted and quit. This has gone on for months!
No matter how busy I was if I wrote 100 words a day I could at east knock out a blog a month. But I have gone months without even writing. This is the issue not time.
This is the same thing that happens with exercise. Something happens to trigger a change. A comment, jeans not fitting or seeing a photo of yourself you’re not happy about. You feel pumped, join the gym, set out your elaborate plan of world domination.
The problem here is you plan this while you’re motivated. In 3 weeks you’re not going to be and you’ll quit. I spend a large part of my day telling people to do less. I get the same confused look. “You mean I don’t have to train 6 days a week and eat 1200 calories? But Michelle Bridges said…”
How about you show up to the gym 3 times a week for 20-30 minutes. What you do in the gym is not as important as showing up. That 20 minute bodyweight session that barely broke a sweat is going to benefit you more than that 45 minute HIIT session you were planning on doing.
You see where this is going?
All of this research comes from a man named BJ Fogg based in Stanford. Dr. Fogg is the world’s go to guy in habit research and his advice is always to start small, super small. If you want to start flossing he recommends you set a ‘tiny habit’ to floss one tooth. One tooth is a success. You can stop after that guilt free. When you’ve done one tooth a lot of times you’ll do them all. The key here is getting over that initial resistance.
This is where habit based coaching is so much more superior than your traditional structured meal plans and rules.
The final step in the new habit is having a trigger that reminds you. An easy way to find a trigger is to make it something you do everyday.
For me restarting mediation for 5 minutes was easy to put in after my shower in the morning. I shower every morning, I want to re establish mediation as a daily habit so it works well to slot it in after that shower.
For writing it is less stable. I set the trigger as after my first break on the day. This changes as I coach people at different times but it is usually sometime between 7 and 10 that I will get a 30-60 minute slot of free time. The 100 words takes 5 -10 minutes so once I complete it I can rest or continue depending on how I feel. Today I am on word 954! Yesterday I stopped on 100.
Take home message
Step 1: Get specific
What behavior do you want?
Translate target outcomes and goals into behaviors.
And be specific.
Step 2: Make it easy
How can you make the behavior easy to do?
Simplicity changes behavior.
Step 3: Trigger the behavior
What will prompt the behavior?
Some triggers are natural. Others you must design.
No behavior happens w/o a trigger.
Let me know what habits you’re struggling with in the comments and what you can do to restart this habit.