“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems”. James Clear – author of Atomic Habits
Where we are is a result of our habits. The good habits are the ones that serve us in the long run.
So, we can have great, worthwhile goals but it’s ‘what we do day to day that makes all the difference’. We are in fact a product of our habits. Deep down we know this is true. But how do we form habits that stick? How do we stay motivated? How do we remain inspired and not bored and avoid becoming a self-discipline junkie, soullessly trudging through life?
When I work with my clients, they leave every session with a list of actions (incremental steps) that they will take to lead them to where they want to be. These steps are carefully crafted and worked out after we are super clear on what goal they want to work on and why. The steps we agree on are very specific. We put a microscope on current life patterns and routines, we dig deep, we ask when will this new routine start? Why a Wednesday and not a Thursday? What might stop you? Why is this important again, remind me? We work out a new pattern that will work. And we don’t stop until the client can answer the question – How motivated are you to start these new actions on a scale of 1-10? If my client doesn’t respond with an 8, 9 or 10 we start over. We have missed something! I challenge them (nicely) but we ensure that the habits are workable, impactful and authentic to them.
I know as a coach and from life experience that (for me) January is NOT THE month to start creating new life goals and habits. Perhaps it depends on what climate and culture people live in, but here in the UK, January can be long, dark, and cold. It is a wonderful month to get cosey, to recalibrate, recharge, do some soul searching and gently ease into the day with gentler exercises but certainly no radical lifestyle or dietary changes. A little sweetness and comfort are restorative in January. Go easy. Start the day with a candle and certainly not the BIG LIGHT! February however, the natural light starts to change, the air is fresher, milder. Snowdrops push up from the ground. There is a new energy.
So, how do we create good habits, the right habits and habits that stick?
Be patient. It takes effort and time. Lots of reminders. Forming a new habit that sticks can take at least 21 to 30 days according to scientific studies.
You may need to exaggerate your diary entry at first – highlight it, underline it, set an alarm. You might forget at the start, that’s ok, just get back on track the next day.
Ask for help. I am rubbish at getting up some mornings. My husband isn’t. So, when I need an earlier start, I ask my husband to help me by brining me a cuppa. He is happy to help. We are a team.
Set up your habit so that it is convenient. If you want to do 15 mins of weight training twice a week, you will need to make the weights visible, you will need to put them in a convenient place so that you can easily grab them and proceed. Or you’ll forget and be distracted by other stuff. Likewise, if you don’t want something to be convenient (like sugary snacks) place them in your top cupboard so that you have to grab a chair or stool to reach them. James Clear calls this ‘creating friction’, like putting a TV in a cabinet out of site, or something being ‘frictionless’ like putting lots of fruit in a bowl right where you work.
Be realistic. Lots of my clients are keen to impress (cute) when I ask, “so how many times a week do you want to do this?” They usually say ‘err…seven!’ Really?! We soon get the habit down to a more realistic number that could easily be increased over time. (Unless they really do need to go jogging 7 days a week, well okay I was just checking!)
Ask yourself WHY you have decided to take up this new habit. That’s really important. What will the benefits be? Remind yourself of the ultimate goal or bigger picture. To stick, habits must lead to something rewarding and motivating. Or we will give up. Because they can be hard and sometimes even a bit dull.
Remind yourself of a time in the past when you set up a good new habit and it worked? What did you do that time? You can recreate that moment again or tweak it.
Finally… Remember you don’t have to be THAT self-disciplined all the time. Let’s say if you cultivate good habits most of the time (the 80/20 rule), this already is going to be impactful AND life needs to be spontaneous sometimes or what’s the point? So, give yourself permission to have the odd day off, a lovely break from the usual and enjoy it. Guilt free.
What else can you do?
I set myself positive affirmations. I write these down and say them out loud to myself if I am struggling:
“I put nutritious food in my trolley with the odd treat for the weekend.”
“I choose to eat healthy home cooked meals at least 4 days a week so that I am energized.”
“I do exercise that I enjoy like yoga or a walk at least four times a week for 30 minutes.”
Ooh and SHOULD and SHOULD NOT are banned. Coaches don’t use them. The minute we should and shouldn’t ourselves we start on a guilt trip, a negative psychological downward spiral that leads to rebellion and self-sabotage, judgement of ourselves and of others. Not good! Much much better to positively state what you will do in the present tense. Your brain starts to believe it is true and if you slip one day, so what?? You can just get back on track the next day! Guilt free. Calmly.
Want to learn more?
James Clear – Book: Atomic Habits
Podcast #145 Dr Chatterjee with James Clear How To Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones
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#Keeping it Cool in Midlife.