Habits are simply behavior we do regularly, automatically and often subconsciously. When something becomes a habit it saves us energy as the behavior becomes automatic and no longer requires mental effort. For example, it is unlikely you need to think too hard or exercise huge amounts of willpower to brush your teeth in the morning or put your seatbelt on when driving. If we can develop habits that are aligned to our goals, we also can also save the need exercise so much self-discipline.
Setting clear goals is important, however, you have only taken the first step if you don’t also look to establish habits that are aligned to your goals. Goals give us direction, but if you really want real change in your life your need to start small, by working on your daily actions. A goal might be to deliver a project on time to a clients satisfaction, but it’s our habits of reviewing progress, prioritising activities and meeting with the client that will see us nailing the goal.
“Motivation is what gets you started; Habit is what keeps you going.”
– Jim Ryun: Author and Professional Athlete.
How to make your habits work for you?
- Be aware of your habits – I often ask my coaching clients to spend a week being aware and recording their habits. I also encourage you to think about the activities you regularly do. Do you get out of bed in the morning and go for a walk or hit the snooze button twice and then check Facebook before starting your day? It’s amazing how many of our behaviours we often don’t realise have become habit.
- Determine habits to make and habits to break – Once you have conducted a stock take of your habits, compare these to your goals. Which habits are supporting the achievement of your goals and which could be the cause of you failing miserably? Create a list of habits to make and habits that need to be need to be eliminated.
- Build good habits into your daily routines – Once you are clear on the habits you want to make, schedule time to undertake your regular ‘habit building’ activities. Look for your most productive times and schedule the habits into time when you are more likely to have energy and motivation. It might be that for you, the end of the day after a busy day at work is not the time to put in the energy to establishing a new habit.
Remember to start small and don’t try to do everything at once – introduce one habit at a time!
- Break a habit by replacing a habit – It’s easier to replace a habit than to break a habit. Most bad habits meet a need: attention, stress relief, boredom etc. When tackling a bad habit it is helpful to look at what else you can do to meet the need. For example, Shelly had a goal of feeling more in control at work, so she replaced the habit of letting her inbox determine her priorities for the day with spending the train ride in to work reviewing her priorities and goals and determining 3 key actions she would do in the day that would have a positive impact on her goals.
Many also find that their ‘I will’ power is stronger than their ‘I won’t’ power. For example I wont check my emails before I get out of bed each morning can be reframed to I will start each day with 10 deep breaths and a shower.
- Get support – The role support plays cannot be underestimated. A coach can offer great ongoing support in achieving goals and developing success strategies and habits. Support does not have to be formal though, ask a colleague to help keep you accountable to improving your habits. There are also some great Apps designed to help in improving habits. One of my favourite is StickK a free web-based service, which gets you to create a commitment contract. You report in daily and for each day you don’t stick to your habit goal and money is donated to a charity (often one you oppose) if you are unsuccessful.