Compounding habit changes results in major transformation. Leo Babauta
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from 4+ years of running this website, it’s that I’m writing to a more educated and intelligent crowd than the norm (and usually better looking, too!). To put it bluntly, most of my readers are “in the know,” and aren’t easily fooled by the scams and gimmicks out there. They know the truth when they see it.
This makes my job so much easier because I can simply tell the truth without beating around the bush. Wonderful, I know! And that’s exactly what I’m going to do right now. In the next few paragraphs, I’m going to show you a simple way to radically transform your life for the better – whatever that looks like to you. It works for everyone, and personally, this method works better than anything else I’ve ever tried, and I’ve been putting it into practice in a somewhat systematic manner over the past year.
If you’ve been a regular reader of Physical Living for any length of time, then you know that I’ve spoken before about the importance of our habits when it comes to our health, fitness, and quality of life. Our habits determine many things about these areas, and they can make or break our success. So, much of health and fitness depends on behavior modification: choosing to exercise rather than choosing to sleep in, choosing a healthier diet rather than junk food, choosing to get to bed earlier, etc. Naturally, if you want to be successful in a new way, you’ve got to modify your behavior in some way, shape, or form. You’ve got to change some habits. We all do, and it’s a never-ending process. You’ll never be too ______ for habit change. I don’t care how enlightened you are, there will always be something you can work on to positively impact your life and the lives of those around you.
Now, in 2012, I got into the habit of working on habits. I didn’t follow an exact formula, but I did follow some general guidelines that helped me immensely. If you’ve got some habits that you’d like to adopt, give up, or change, then I’m confident that following these guidelines will help you immensely, too.
Take at least one month to practice just one habit. Forget the 21 days formula that you’ve heard about. Many people assume that if you stick with something for just 21 days that the habit will automatically stick, but this is seldom the case. There is no specific length of time that works universally for every person and every habit. Some habits may only take a week to adopt, and another could take months. That’s why I’ve gotten away from an exact formula and just propose a general guideline to take at least one month for just one habit because that’s what generally works for me.
And when in doubt, just play it by ear. Some deeply ingrained habits may take much longer than one month. So, don’t set yourself up for failure. And don’t try to master more than one habit at a time unless you’ve got a proven track record of success and you know your limits. Said another way, wait until after you’ve mastered one habit before starting to work on another one. Focusing on one at a time gives you the advantage of being able to place your full energy into the process until that process is complete.
Ease into your new habit gradually (or ease out of an old habit gradually). I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. Going cold turkey rarely works. Sure, it does work in some cases, but it’s usually much harder and has a much higher chance of failure. On the flip side, you almost never hear of someone failing to change a habit when they commit to the long haul and progress towards their goal gradually. Those people are the winners. They’re the ones who conquer habit after habit because they understand that incremental progress is progress.
Now, I would even go so far to say that you should progress not just gradually, but as gradually as possible – even if it borders on the ridiculous. Wake up just one minute earlier. Floss just one tooth the first day. Take just one minute to read, exercise, pray, or relax, etc.
If you can get past your natural inclination that tells you you’re doing something ridiculous… “I mean, flossing just one tooth and reading for just one minute?” …then you will almost certainly succeed. Tomorrow, you’ll floss two teeth and read for two minutes, etc. And it’ll seem ridiculous then, too. But at a certain point, you will encounter a different type of resistance entirely. There will come a point where it gets tough. You’ll be thinking that you’re really tired, that you don’t have time, or that there’s a million other things that need to be done. And even seven minutes feels like a stretch that day. Or, it could happen at 15 minutes, 25 minutes, etc.
And that’s exactly when the value of progressing gradually comes into focus. You may have planned on reading for 15 minutes tonight, but you’re too tired, too busy, etc. But then you realize that just yesterday, you read for 14 minutes. And it wasn’t all that bad. And hey, you could read for just one minute longer tonight, right? I mean, it’s just one more minute than you’ve already done before, and that doesn’t sound too tough now, does it?
And eventually, what happens is that after 15, 16, 17, 18 minutes of persevering, you gain confidence and momentum towards your goal. It starts to seem easy, and you start wondering why you didn’t start this sooner. It’s at this point where you’ll be tempted to do more – to start another habit, or to double your efforts, but I would caution you to see you plan through until the end. Don’t fix what isn’t broken and don’t alter your course until you know that you’ve mastered this one habit you’re working on – until you know that you can’t and won’t ever go back.
Remember what I said earlier about telling the truth without beating around the bush? Yeah, you’ve probably noticed that the truth is often obvious, self-evident, boring, and decidedly UN-sexy. Put simply, the truth seldom sells because if we all knew the truth, we wouldn’t have half the problems we do today. Sometimes, the truth hurts, too, because we come face to face with the reality that achieving some lofty goal is much simpler and easier than we subconsciously thought in the past. The truth may even sound easy (hint: it usually is!).
So, if you want to transform your life in any way, shape, or form, take out a piece of paper and brainstorm a list of habits you want to adopt, give up, or otherwise change. Then pick one and establish your ridiculously easy criteria for day one. Then get it done, even if you laugh the whole time.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Aristotle
Successful people are simply those with successful habits. Brian Tracy
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CST Coach, CST-KS
Health-First Fitness Coach