It’s only the end of February and I’ve already given up on my lofty “goals” for the year.
I’m not losing weight, exercising or even meditating.
Plus, I’m not listening better to my staff members as I had promised.
It feels crazy to give up already. How to make the changes I say I want?
Not in The Habit
You’re not alone. There is a reason why gyms sell annual memberships. They know the crowd will have thinned by this time of year to just the consistent regulars.
It’s interesting that you sign off referencing “habit.” A core message of the current best seller Atomic Habits, by James Clear, is that even small changes (hence, atomic) with small incremental increases over a long time can yield significant gains.
Imagine getting 1% better every day for a year. Or, if you shifted your direction on a map by 1 degree and progressed that way over a long period of time, you would end up in a very different place.
The book suggests we look at systems versus goals.
With goals, we have a metric to achieve and once we’re there, we create another goal and so we’re always in pursuit of what we think will make us happy. The satisfaction of achievement is fleeting, and elusive.
Systems are about the processes that lead to those results. A system consists of the action steps we take in pursuit of a goal.
I remember an English teacher in high school telling me: do the work and the grades will take care of themselves.
How do we create a system and what sustains it? Our individual system will be the outgrowth of our personal set of beliefs and so it becomes about our identity.
A personal example is that my number one rule for myself is to show up. That becomes: I’m the type of person who is a dependable because I am very consistent in showing up.
When we repeat behavior, it becomes a reinforcing loop. Habits shape identity, and identity shapes habits.
Over time and with consistency, one is no longer looking for a change, but instead just acting like the person they believe (or want) themselves to be.
True behavior change is about changing our self-identity. The reason we stick with a new behavior is that it becomes part of our identity.
And so it follows that the biggest barrier to positive change is identity conflict.
Good habits can make sense rationally, but if they conflict with our identity we will fail to maintain them.
The bottom line with atomic habits is that they are not about having something. They are about becoming someone.
Here’s an interesting and individually challenging dynamic to this: to get the results we want, it requires we create a system based on honoring values we say (if only to ourselves) are key to us; it means we must demonstrate our commitment to a value or principle and be faithful about it.
How to act on this?
The author’s two-step process for change is:
1. Decide the type of person you want to be (honoring your values and principles)
2. Prove it to yourself with small wins
Not sure when to begin to answer the first question? Ask yourself: what kind of person could get the outcome I want? What would _________ do?
For a deeper dive and a practical understanding of how to act on these ideas, I suggest checking out the book.
It breaks down how a habit is constructed with a cue, craving, response and reward.
Plus, there is considerable discussion on the strategies involved in the recommended four steps to creating a positive habit.
1. Make it Obvious – Ensure the cues of good habits are visible.
2. Make it Attractive – Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.
3. Make it Easy – Prepare your environment to make desired actions easy (leave exercise clothes out, e.g.). Downscale habits until at least a portion can be done in two minutes or less (very doable as an initial start and later as a minimum for continuity).
4. Make it Satisfying – Give yourself an immediate reward when you complete a habit. Track your habits to monitor progress. Never miss twice in a row because missing becomes the new habit.
We’re not throwing goals out with the bathwater. Goals still have a role and are good for setting a direction. The key is that systems are better for making progress.
The invitation is to decide what kind of person you want to be and then live into it with value-based habits.
To successfully make big changes. . .
. . . start small.