Two Ways to Start Good Habits
You know how when you’re driving home and you’ve been on the motorway for ages or you get near your house and you go ‘Whoa, hang on a second… I wasn’t paying attention for that. Was I even driving safely? HOW DID I JUST FORGET TO PAY ATTENTION?!’
You do it because you’re just on autopilot.
Once your brain learns how to do something well enough, it moves it to the ‘unconscious’ part of your mind. The part that just tells you what to do without you having to think or decide about it – just do it automatically. It goes on autopilot.
You spend a lot of time on autopilot.
Like, a lot.
So when you’re STOPPING a habit, like I posted about last week, it’s a bit of a challenge.
But it’s also hard to even REMEMBER to start a new habit. You get to the end of the day and go ‘Oh, I didn’t do an extra 3,000 steps’ or ‘I didn’t drink more water like I said I was going to’.
So if it’s that hard to even put a new habit into your routine… how do you do it??
Two ways: make them easy, and make them small. These sound similar, but they’re not.
If you want to start a new habit, you’ll want to make it small.
Small is doable.
That might not sound very exciting if you want to lose twelve stone in two months and complete five triathlons by May, but let’s think long term.
Doable means you can do it, and it’s not a struggle.
That means you’re more likely to KEEP doing it over a longer period of time.
Doable also means replicable – you can replicate it over and over again without much effort.
Big changes might feel new and exciting, but who’s high-fiving you when you’ve rage-smashed your sustainable glass bottles because you’re fed up of spirulina smoothies, kale chips, and feeling starving, and you’d maim someone for a Mars bar?
Small is sustainable.
Yes, big changes make you feel good.
Announcements on Facebook about how you’re going to ‘be the new you’ and make a difference are great… but do you always stick to them?
No one writes a book in a few hours one day.
People write books, screenplays, and their memoirs, a little at a time.
Those little things add up to big things – not in a week, sure. But over a month, a year, those small things make up something big.
So you get big change – you really do.
You just don’t get it tomorrow.
(But honestly? Doesn’t matter how many spin classes you were gonna do tonight, you weren’t getting it tomorrow anyway).
So you know you’re starting small, which makes the new habit simple to do.
Now you’re going to double that effectiveness (and the likelihood that you’ll actually keep doing it) by making it EASY to do.
Preparation, preparation, preparation.
Upping your portions of veg per day, or reducing calories? Batch cooking and meal prepping ARE YOUR FRIENDS.
A moment’s weakness makes it more likely to fall back into old ways if you don’t have a new option in arm’s reach and EASY to grab.
Going for a workout/run/walk first thing in the morning? Make sure your gear is right next to your bed so you can be up and out in moments (before your brain has a chance to talk you out of it).
(I’ve even heard of people who sleep in their workout clothes to make it even easier!)
When it comes down to it, leaving it until you’re in the moment to make a decision about whether you follow your new habit or not is an easy way to fail.
Telling yourself you’ll think about it later, or tomorrow, is a no-go because you’ll be on autopilot, and less likely to rememeber.
But even if you do remember, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll follow through with it.
In that moment, deciding to stick to a new habit or fall back into old ways can be a bit overwhelming and you tend to naturally do what you’re used to doing.
Apart from the fact that the older way is easier, more familiar, there’s also such a thing as decision fatigue. (It’s why people who have a history of making big-time decisions, people like Obama and Mark Zuckerberg, wear the same thing every day – no decisions involved – they’re saving that for other stuff.)
Having to make too many decisions can mentally overwhelm you.
You open the fridge.
‘I’m MEANT to be eating ‘healthily’. But what does that mean? What can I make for lunch that’s ‘healthy’?’
You remember you’ve never properly made an omelette, and salads are boring.
‘Oh man, I’m so hungry, I just want to eat. Never mind, I’ll have a cheese sandwich, all the stuff is right here.’
Having to make decisions when you feel unsure, particularly when you’re doing something new, is hard.
It’s mentally tiring – that, in turn, has a negative impact on your willpower.
You might only have so much willpower in a day. So if you make it easy to AVOID having to use willpower or make decisions, especially in relation to sticking to your goal or habit, you’ll be more likely to make better choices – because you haven’t had to actually make them.
So that’s how you make it easier to START new habits – small bits at a time (which you can add to as you go along) and making it easier on yourself!
Feeling tired just reading about how much effort goes into changing? It can be easier! If you want to know more about how NLP can help you change the things you want to improve, come along to our introduction course in April.