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.