For many of us, the first days and weeks of January bring with it a desire to make a change. This is where habits come into the picture.
You might be thinking of starting something new, you might be on a path to quit a bad habit or simply to reach that big goal you’ve been thinking about for a while.
Here at The Coaching Academy, we’re big believers in Goal Setting, instead of ‘New Year Resolutions’. The latter tends to imply a set date you ‘must’ start working towards the goal and if you fail at upholding the promised steps, the goal fails with it. We believe you can start your goals, anytime, anywhere and a setback is just that, one step back from which we can move forward again.
No matter your stance on resolutions, you might agree with us that a goal is built out of steps you need to action to get the results you want. Getting the motivation every single day, however, to perform this new action, can drain our energy and can be difficult to uphold in the long term.
That’s where habits come in.
Now, this article is not going to teach you how to build habits. Instead, it will highlight key ideas from people who have spent decades researching habits so you can take the best nuggets of wisdom and start implementing them today.
1. Habits emerge without our consent.
In ‘The Power of Habits’ Charles Duhigg explains that this is the brain’s way of protecting itself so it has the energy to make the important decisions. It thinks about what worked before and then it implements it, most times without asking for your consent.
2. There is a clear pattern in how habits are formed: trigger – routine – reward.
James Clear breaks down the pattern of habits in ‘Atomic Habits’. It applies to both good and bad habits, existing ones and the ones you are working towards. The trigger initiates the behaviour, the routine is the action you take and the reward is what solidifies the action in your mind.
3. Think small.
You’ll never hear us say this again, but when it comes to building habits, it’s the small, repetitive steps that count. Acknowledge your trigger, take the action, reinforce with a reward. And repeat.
One of the key takeaways from James Clear is that it doesn’t matter how long the action is! The key is to do the action again and again. For example, it doesn’t matter how long the workout was, put on your gym clothes (trigger), go to the gym (action). Your body will start releasing endorphins as soon as you get on that treadmill (reward). You can go home after 5 minutes or 40 minutes. Tomorrow, do the same – put on your clothes, get on the treadmill. Repeat and repeat till you don’t even have to think about going to the gym, your brain will know what to do as soon as you put the gym shirt on.
4. Honing in on your trigger can help break bad habits and form new ones.
This idea emerges throughout literature and ideas around habits. The pattern above gives a great framework for building new habits with small steps. It allows you to focus in on what’s important without being overwhelmed by the big goal you set out for yourself.
It also allows us to look at bad habits from a different perspective. Knowing that habits start with the trigger, we can work on breaking our habits from there.
As an example, a smoker might get into the habit of having a smoke with the morning coffee so the trigger there is the coffee itself. Knowing this can help figure out a solution, anything from creating a different habit around the coffee to quitting coffee altogether.
5. Begin with the end in mind.
In ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ Stephen R. Covey famously states that this is what differentiates highly successful people from others. This idea can be applied to any goal in any timeframe.
Think about your goal, then break it down into bitesize pieces. Then take some time to consider – what kind of habits will help you reach that goal? Do you need to learn a new skill, maybe even develop a mindset shift? The more detailed you can be, the better.
6. You can replace old habits with new ones by shifting routines, but only belief will keep you from relapsing.
You might have heard the quote ‘Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.’ Charles Duhigg’s found that this is true even for our habits. Anyone can replace an old habit, but the key that will help you stick with the new one is your own belief that you can keep to it.
7. Morning routines can set you up for a successful day.
There are many books and thoughts about morning routines, one of the latest being Amy Landino with ‘Good Morning, Good Life’ where she brakes down how to successfully build habits for the morning that will set you up for a successful day.
The key idea is that the routine is not the goal, it is the path towards your goals. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you can take time before the responsibilities of the day to reflect on yourself, your goals and ultimately, take control of your day instead of letting the day control you.
8. Choose What You Want to Keep, Not What You Want To Toss
Marie Kondo became famous with her book series “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” where she writes about how to organize your environment. However, the main ideas in the book can be applied to many areas of your life, including goals and habits.
Sometimes we might find ourselves with goals we only set out for ourselves because others expected it or habits we developed in an old partnership. By focusing on the habits that ‘spark our joy’ we can find more clarity to work towards the life that we truly desire.
9. Habits help you create more freedom
Some people might challenge habits and routines because they feel too constrained by them. You might say that you prefer the freedom to do what you want, whenever we want it.
All this literature on habits, however, proposes a different perspective: that setting up certain habits and routines will give you MORE freedom, time and energy for the things that are actually important to you.
We’ve never met anyone who’s favourite moment of the month was paying the bills, however, taking the time to do this at a certain date every month will help you avoid stress, last-minute rush and a general headache. Some of you might be thinking that, actually, you enjoy pushing the limits and the last-minute rush brings you joy. In that case, the last-minute rush IS your routine.
Each of us has different habits, different goals and different strategies to conquer life. Whether you crave structure or hate the simple thought of it, we hope you found an idea here that resonates with you.
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