We all have things we want to change about ourselves. We all have bad habits we would like to break and good habits we would like to create.
You will find that I spend a lot of time talking about habits on my blog and there is a great reason for that. Habits have a monumental impact upon our lives and there is no area of our lives that is not deeply effected impacted by them. Experts claim that well over 40 percent of our physical actions are habitual.
In my view the quote on this image resounds with truth. Habits truly are either the best of servants or the worst of masters and Success in life can be simply a matter of gaining better control over our habitual thoughts and actions. The greater our control over our habits the more successful we can become.
Creating new habits is never easy and we older adults face a bigger challenge than most. Those of us seeking success on the far side of fifty have a literal lifetime of programming to overcome.
For years and years I mistakenly thought that changing habits was strictly a matter of discipline. As a result of this mistaken belief I would regularly beat myself up for my lack of self-control and discipline whenever I failed to stick with a new habit. After years of self-recrimination I learned that ingraining new habits requires smart strategy as will as self-discipline. While discipline is an extremely key ingredient of habit change there are several strategies that; if employed, will dramatically increase the chances of success for those of us who are seeking to make lasting personal change.
Below are my 5 favorite tricks to make habit changes stick.
Make a written commitment.
Studies have shown that you are up to 3 times more likely to follow through on a habit if you write out a plan that states where, when and how you will complete the new behaviour.
I suggest that you create your written commitment to your new habit in the following format; “I commit to completing (fill in the blank) at (time of day) in or at (location).
For example; “I commit to walking for 20 minutes per day. I will walk at 8 am each day at my home.”
Other studies have shown that having sharing your commitment with someone else that will follow-up with you at least weekly will increase your probability of success to around 90%.
Start the habit smaller than you think you should.
To make a habit stick start very small. Make success easier than failure.
If your aim is to build your way up to 100 push ups per day start with 10 push ups and do them religiously.
The definition of a habit is “a regular tendency or practice that is hard to give up” and starting a tiny habit is far easier than a big one.
Focus on the creation of daily habits.
It is far easier to create a daily habit than to do something two or three times per week. Experts come back to this one time and time again. If your new habit isn’t done at least daily it probably isn’t a even a habit.
Our brains love routine and familiarity. This deeply ingrained desire for routine is why people spend decades in jobs they hate and in relationships that don’t work. Therefore the more routine and familiar we can make an activity the more likely it is to follow through with it.
You are far more likely to exercise 15 minutes every day that to work out for half hour three times per week, this is even more true if you are working out at the same time, and in the same place.
Focus on the positive aspects of the habit.
It is no big surprise that it is always easier to keep up with an activity that we enjoy. But many people I encounter persist in focussing on the negative side of the new habit they are forming.
I was working out a few weeks ago and observed a new person in the fitness centre. She was running on a treadmill and obviously working hard. In an effort to make small talk I asked how she was doing, to which she replied “I hate working out.” I knew right then and there that, unless something changed, she had virtually no chance of making her new exercise program stick.
Unfortunately many people attempt new behaviours because they think they need to do them, not because they want to do them.
Your brain is hard-wired to move away from pain and move toward pleasure.
It is much much harder to create a habit involving something that involves pain. This is one reason why diets and exercise programs are hard to maintain, they involve perceptions of exertion and deprivation.
There is ALWAYS a benefit to the habit. A habit is ONLY worthwhile trying to create if there is a benefit to it. If there is no benefit to the habit then why the heck are you trying to create it?
Therefore there are three key elements to the mental game of creating new habits:
First: Look for ways to make the habit enjoyable– if you don’t like running try walking, if you don’t like walking try riding a bike. Then focus on the parts of the activity you enjoy
Two: Remember that this is something that YOU CHOSE. You are a creature of free will, you have pondered your choices and you have decided that this course of action is the best choice.
Three: Focus on the benefit of the behavioural change. And the key is for you to think of all the benefits.
For example; if you are trying to lose weight think of all the great things that you will come of it. You might lower your blood pressure, reduce your need for medications, and experience less joint pain. You can imagine going places and doing things that you have not been able to for a long while. Imagine how proud your friends and family will be.
Make your list long, positive and real. Then review that list any time that you feel yourself begin to falter in your new habit.
The more pleasurable you perceive the habit to be; the more likely you will be able to sustain it over the long-term.
Know that setbacks are simply part of the process.
Although statistics vary it is estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of all New Year’s resolutions fail. People start off with the greatest intention and within one or two weeks they give up and return to their old behaviours.
But the problem isn’t that people experience setbacks. The real problem is what happens once the setback occurs.
The majority of people give up once they experience a setback. They throw in the towel and attribute their failure to a lack of discipline (as I have done on many occasions).
However, there are a very few people who look at their departures from their new habits as learning opportunities rather than failures. These people are the once who analyse where they went wrong and adjust their processes before trying again. They don’t give up, they don’t give in; they learn and improve.
Which response to failure do you think leads to the best results?
As an honest man I will freely admit that I routinely fail to achieve my goals. I don’t write as long or as well as I intend, I don’t go for the run I planned, I don’t stick to my diet or tend to my meditation as well as I hope.
But every time I fail I examine why I didn’t do as well as I had intended, I adjust my process and I try again, and again, and again. Every once in a while I have to go back and re-evaluate my whole goal but I never give up.
I use each failure as a learning opportunity and I use it to drive my personal growth.
In fact, I look at the effort that it takes me to create and maintain a new habit as exercise. Every obstacle and failure I overcome makes me a little stronger and more resilient.
So those are my 5 favorite tricks to make habit changes stick.
Let’s face it after over 50 years of life we all have decades of failure under our belts. We are all works in progress and I am the very last person on the planet to claim that I have nothing to work on. I need to improve my diet, enhance my exercise program, become a better writer, improve my coaching and become a better father and husband.
As I see it, the real benefit of habit change doesn’t end with a new habit. The true benefit of creating a positive new habit is that it becomes an ongoing improvement in the quality of life for you and those around you.
So what about you? Do you have any secret’s to share on how you make habits stick or do you need some help or advice on how to change your life?
Feel free to leave a comment, shoot me and email or sign up to receive Success on The Far Side of Fifty in your inbox.
Thanks for reading and I hope you have a fantastic week.