“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
As is the norm at the beginning of a new year, we determine to do something different, change it up, become better versions of ourselves. I am no different! I have plans, hopes and goals for myself and my business. I really feel in my bones that I am on the verge of a great year and I’m excited to see what takes root and grows. In the back of my mind, though, is a little niggling voice reminding me of past resolutions that didn’t take. It is certainly a negative voice but one that should be given some attention. Not in a stop-me-before-I-begin, why-bother kind of way but in a how can we stop-that-from-happening-this-year kind of way. So. How can I prevent the myself from giving up?
As is often the case, when really focusing on a question or issue, an answer or new way of thinking presents itself. An email digest from one of my favorite sites, 99u.com, showed up with ‘The 99U Guide to Habits‘. After reading the 5 articles, I had a new frame of mind about my goals for the year.
Making a habit is a different goal than many people have when they first start behavior changes. In most cases, people are after results – they want to lose weight, get a promotion, or master a skill.
But forming a habit is different than getting results….
What many people fail to realize is that getting results is much easier once you already have the habit. Being fit is easy if you show up to the gym every day. Being a skilled writer is easier if you’re already writing each day. Habits precede success. – from Fix Bad Habits: Insights from a 7-Year Obsession
Rather than focusing on the results right now, I’ve decided to use the 30-day, daily conditioning suggestion from that article on the most ubiquitous of all resolutions: exercising. Of course, I want results. I want to drop 10 pounds, get rid of the spare tire and ride my motorcycle without getting tired. For the month of January, though, I am not going to worry that I’ve only lost a pound or that it’s not immediately visible. Instead,I am going to focus on making exercise every day a habit. I am going to do Pilates every day, for 30 days. If I want to mix it up and jog or do weights, that’s fine but I often get paralyzed by thinking I need to do cardio and weights and Pilates. That’s overload and I end up doing nothing. Again, keeping it simple and focusing on making the habit. Later, I get more focused on specific results because as Scott Young says in that article, “…getting results is much easier once you already have the habit.”
Another article in the guide, 5 Scientific Ways to Build Habits That Stick, refers to the “Behavior Chain” which relies on if-then planning; choosing a regular part of your schedule and then tying the habit to it. One of my business goals is to focus on/make time for marketing and necessary admin functions. My coach Jenny Fenig always stresses this point and it’s true. If you don’t plan time for this necessary part of running a business, it’s probably not going to happen because of any number of reasons you can come up with. To make this happen, I have marked out 4-5PM every weekday for my business. I picked this time because I have discovered a ‘natural’ rhythm to my day. About this time every day, after concentrating on creating logos, answering emails and phone calls, laying out websites and writing code, I tend to burn out on those activities. I start reading articles, jotting down quotes, etc. So why not ‘admit’ to that; take advantage of it and make it a productive and regular part of my day? The next step is to tie the habit to my schedule. The example in the article is instead of saying “I will keep a cleaner house” you would decide “When I come home, I’ll change my clothes and then clean my room/office/kitchen.” This apparently is successful because it relies on cues or specific tasks rather than willpower which is in limited supply and tends to get weaker as the day progresses (hello 3 beers and juicy plate of wings!). So for me: If it’s 4PM, I will work on my business. I am also making sure I have something specific already in mind to work on so that I don’t have to think about it and can dive right in.
I think the best article in the whole group is What to Do When You Fall Back Into Your Old, Less Productive Ways. Do you give up or keep trying? How that question is answered has a lot to do with success or failure. My brain, unfortunately, tends to go on the negative which can be so frustrating. Big changes don’t happen in a straight line (even if we really want them to!) and expecting it to will invariably lead to disappointment because relapses happen. Accepting that they do, though, and giving yourself permission to stumble will go a long way to getting you where you want to be.
When you notice that you have reverted to an old way of behaving, it’s tempting to take the easy way out by blaming the system or blaming yourself. Whether you take the “Stupid Technique” or “Stupid Me” approach, you end up diminishing your desire to try again because you see yourself as a victim of external circumstances. To experience lasting habit change, you need to look at the situation as an opportunity to learn what you can do to create a different outcome in the future. Instead of overreacting to the blip, step back from it, see it as an incident instead of an indictment, and then examine it like Sherlock Holmes looking for clues.
For example, you could ask yourself: What happened before the slip? Did I encounter a specific trigger event such as a last-minute client request? Was there an unusual circumstance such as sickness? When did I first notice the reversion in my behavior? Is some part of this routine unsustainable and if so, how could I adjust it to make it more realistic? – from What to Do When You Fall Back Into Your Old, Less Productive Ways.
After reading these articles and getting very specific with what I’m trying to do, I’m off to a better start than I ever have been. I highly recommend giving the ‘The 99U Guide to Habits‘ a read and let me know what resonates with you!