As promised...this month's freebie: The Habit Tracker!
You can download it here, and get started on a new habit journey today. Read below for more info on the science behind the tracker, plus some tips and examples on how to set yourself up for habit success.
TIP #1: ONE AT A TIME
Our first tip is to start with one habit at a time. The science: Habits are really just neural freeways our brain has built over time, they help our brain be efficient -- so dismantling a habit and starting from scratch makes our brain feel like we're forcing it to take the slow-ass side streets (because it hasn't built neural "freeways" yet for this new habit). This technically means our brains are not as cognitively-efficient during the "new habit making" period, which of course is worth it, but explains why our brains resist our efforts to change (because brains looooove being efficient). When you try to change two habits at a time, you're doubling the cognitive load but using the same resources -- it's still only one brain after all. Our recommendation: Researchers have found that doing one habit for 3 weeks, then a second habit the following 3 weeks raises your chances of success to 80%, rather than trying to do two habits at a time for six weeks (35% success rate). Side note: Experts believe that it takes 3-4 weeks to change an ingrained habit, simply because repetition is critical. So if you don’t give yourself enough time (let’s say you do it for just one week) your brain will easily revert to its old neural pathways and you’ll be back to square one. So stick with it.
TIP #2: VISUALLY TRACK IT
Track your habit in a way that works for you: If you have an incremental exercising habit, use the little boxes to enter the # of reps or miles. Similarly, in the photo example she's tracking how many ounces of water she drinks a day. If you're tracking something more qualitative, like how well you regulated your emotions each day, you can write down scores: 1 = You didn't feel in control of your emotions at all that day and 5 = You felt very in control of your emotions. If you miss a day, don't give the whole thing up. Just start again where you left off, and go for a longer stretch next time (ex: if you seem to exercise at most three days in a row, go for four days in a row next time). Compete with yourself. You'll always win.
TIP #3: KNOW THE WHY
Think about all the benefits of creating this new habit. Why is this important? This step is not fluff -- purpose is incredibly important to the brain's motivation wiring. Bonus level: Don't just think about how you'll benefit, but how others (family, friends, your industry, the world) will benefit too. Studies have found that one of the strongest motivators for success is feeling a connection to how our efforts benefits others. So really get to the heart of how you or others will be positively impacted. Pro-Level: Regularly revisit this; Visualize or re-write the "why" when motivation gets low or obstacles get high.
TIP #4: PREP FOR THE HURDLES
Research in performance psychology reveals that it’s not only important to feel optimistic and have confidence in yourself when changing habits, it's also important to prepare for challenges beforehand so you're ready for them. Take this time to think about 1-3 hurdles you might face and then map out solutions -- this increases your brain's ability to feel confident today, while making you more resilient to obstacles in the future. Win. Win.
THE THREE TYPES OF HURDLES
Despite how rational we all think we are, it's negative emotions that kill habits more than anything else. Emotions include: fear we'll fail, fear we'll look stupid or others will ostracize us, fear we're not smart enough, stress, etc. Consider what emotions will come up as you take on this new habit and then find solutions that honor and help with the feelings (rather than ignore the emotions). Example: A client felt ugly and out of place at her gym, so she had a hard time sticking with a gym habit. Solution: She tried a few small group gym classes until she found one where she felt a kinship to others in the class: They had similar health goals as she did, and they were incredibly warm and welcoming at her first class.
Maybe your new habit includes a steep learning curve. For example, say you want to cook dinner at home instead of going out, but your cooking skills max out at cold cereal. Make a list of resources that will slowly help you build your new skill set: Include people you can turn to for expertise (you could ask Joe to come over and teach you his amazing stew recipe, you'll grab the groceries and fancy wine), websites (follow just two blogs, try one recipe a week), or classes (start with a soup class). Microtask this skill development -- no need to feel overwhelmed. Easy does it.
External hurdles include: Your family/ clients/ coworkers/ the bus route you take/ etc. Because you don't have control over other people and external systems, this is where most people give up: "I've tried getting up early to exercise, but there's always something my kids need that becomes more important" or "I wish I could take a lunch, but my schedule is nonstop meetings that I can't say no to". The solutions are not necessarily obvious but they are always there. Always. Humans have found solutions to much more complicated problems, so believe that you can too. You will need three things: A little creativity, a little boldness to ask for things you may have not ever asked for before, and a little more creativity just for good measure. Creativity might include things like trading your spouse one day a week so you can sneak away at 7am to the coffee shop while they handle the kids solo, or something like blocking your calendar for lunch and adding light humor to the calendar block, like: "BLOCKED: So Susan eats and doesn't faint". If you are stuck about how to tackle your external hurdles, here's some questions that could help unearth solutions:
- Who are some people that could help, but that you’re afraid to ask? --What's the worst case scenario if you ask them?
Where in your schedule can you carve out 20 min so you can make progress?
--Check this example out for how to make 20 min a day work for you.
- What are some fun ways to ask others to help you with this new habit?
- What's the next tiiiiiniest request you could make that would help you move in the right direction?
- Who is someone else facing a similar external hurdle and how do they circumvent it?
BONUS TIP: CHECK YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Studies show that our surroundings play a huge part in whether or not we’re successful in changing habits. Example: Let’s say you want to stop checking your email first thing in the morning, because it's become a stressful way to start your day. Check your surroundings for clues about what makes email checking so easy right now: Is your phone charging next to your bed? How easy is it to check your email before you do anything else in the morning? Solution: Charge your phone overnight in another room, or far enough away from your bed that you can't roll over and check it first thing, or put your gym clothes on top of your phone the night before. All these tiny things will make it harder to do the wrong thing (open your email) and easier to do the right thing (go running instead).
ONE LAST THING:
Don't worry about "falling off the wagon" or whatever other silly metaphor people use for these things. Habits are not wagons that you fall off of or have to cling to, lest they throw you off in some wild stampede. Habits are freeways and you are an engineer -- you've built them before, you'll build them again, though it may take a few sketches, redraws, remeasuring, and contractor negotiations -- it's all part of the gig. Get to planning, get to sketching, enjoy your habit engineering. And remember: We're here for you if you need ideas or solutions.
Your turn: Download the Habit Tracker and let us know how it works for you.