One of my favorite YouTube creators is a gentleman by the name of Mike Boyd. It’s not just the cool Scottish accent, his entire concept is teaching himself new skills as quickly as possible. He’s been sticking with this for over four years now, consistently putting out good content and demonstrating the new feats he’s managed to teach himself month after month. We all know a guy or girl who eats healthy more often than not, or has an unwavering commitment to run, or go to the gym. All of these people have one thing in common – their ability to create – and more importantly, stick with – good habits.
We all know how hard it is to create good habits, hell, it’s so universally understood that old pearls of wisdom such as “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” have become cliché and meaningless. But WHY are good habits so difficult to start and to stick with? I mean, if we know they’re good for us, or are going to further our goals, why do we find it so difficult to make positive changes in our lives?
I can’t do this.
So what causes us to abandon our good habits, even in the face of knowing that they’ll improve our lives? Let’s take weight loss for example. I’ll use a more extreme case for illustrative purposes. Let’s say your goal is to loose 100 pounds (~45 Kilograms). You wake up one day frustrated with being overweight and do a little online research. You learn that if you loose the weight, your entire life will improve – your heart have a much easier job, you’ll stress your joints less, experience less aches and pains, maybe even be able to be taken of medications that might be needed because of your weight. You’ll be able to do more active things, and maybe even start some new hobbies that weren’t as feasible before. You get fired up mentally and commit to changing your life.
For the next week, you try to eat right, go to the gym 3 days a week, get proper rest, and step on the scale, low and behold, you’ve lost a few pounds – not as many as you’d thought, but a few. You decide to stick with the new habit, but you’re not as excited as you were the previous week – the reality of the work has set in, and you’ve been working hard for only a few pounds loss.
The next week, you still go to the gym, but feel self conscious, you fall of the wagon a few times with regard to your diet because some friends talk you into going out with them, but you still feel you’ve worked hard. At the end of the week, you step on the scale, and you’ve gained a pound. You’re crestfallen, but it’s only a pound.
The next week, you come down with a cold. You stop going to the gym – justifiably, because you’re sick – and the diet goes out the window. At the end of that week, you step on the scale and you’re heavier than when you started your diet. This time, you feel crappy about it, you throw your hands in the air having dieted for “three weeks now” in your mind, and actually being up in weight.
So what’s happened here? You still know that your goal was a good one. But you let a little setback throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sometimes it doesn’t even take three weeks to reach the point of giving up. Your original excitement over beginning a new habit get measured against your slow or lack of progress and you give up. It’s all too familiar of a story. You can replace weight loss with anything you’d like, we commit to something, experience a setback, and give up. In my opinion, these are the four boogeymen responsible for most failed habits:
- Impatience with the results
- An outcome based focus
- Giving in to temptation
- Being surrounded by people that don’t align you with your goals
So what can you do about it? How do you develop new habits in your life?
Let’s look back at our friend Mike Boyd, He put together a great video on how to stop quitting everything you start:
One of my favorite parts of this video is when Mike points out how much overthinking can Sabotage your goals. Just start. Don’t overthink it, don’t give yourself excuses why it might be futile, or difficult, just start. That’s the beginning of ANYTHING in your life. At some point, you just decided to take the leap and just start. The same logic holds true for starting good habits. Don’t wait for the right moment – don’t wait for a new year’s resolution – resolve today, right now, and just start the thing.
So how can you overcome the things that make progress seem so slow and cause you to give up? Try the following:
Set realistic goals – If your original goal is to lose 100 pounds, chop that goal up into many smaller goals that can help you maintain accountability and that can be measured more realistically. This is similar to the Pomodoro Technique that Mike references in his video – but over a longer period of time.
Focus on the changes that need to take place to achieve the outcome – Related to point one. If you shift your goal from losing 100 pounds, to a more realistic one – losing 2 pounds a week (that’s 104 in a year), then the results seem much more attainable, and can help you stay committed to your goal over a much longer period of time.
Remove temptations from your life – If weight loss is your goal, throw out the garbage in your refrigerator, fully commit to your new habit. If it’s quitting smoking, ditch the cigarettes, if it’s fitness, set your alarm earlier to remove the temptation of blaming a lack of time for your failures. Instead, focus on things related to your goal – reading about your new commitment, watching online videos etc.
Surround yourself with like minded people – this doesn’t mean you have to lose your old friends that might not align with your new goals. However, make sure you add a few new people who can help you achieve the results you’re after – join a group, or a gym, to connect with these people.
Make your new habit known to all – Don’t keep this new thing a secret. Let people know you’re undertaking a new challenge. This step alone helps with accountability. It might also reveal some people in your life who want the same goal and who will then help you achieve your goal, or might even do it with you.
Lifestyle – Remember habits are lifestyle changes. They may be small or large, but they are lifestyle changes. This is one reason so many diets fail. People go on a keto diet, or an Atkins diet, or a grapefruit-super-granola-uber-juice-cleanse diet, and then when they lose the weight, they return to their old LIFESTYLE of eating poorly and quickly put the pounds back on. Your new habit needs to become second nature to you – its just something that you do now. That’s how you get back into the gym successfully after taking time off from an injury or illness. It’s just part of who you are and what you do.
By focusing on your attainable goals, the habit will form on its own. I think this is beautifully said by BJ Fogg, the founder of Tiny Habits:
If you plant the right seed in the right spot, it will grow without further coaxing.
I believe this is the best metaphor for creating habits.
The “right seed” is the tiny behavior that you choose. The “right spot” is the sequencing — what it comes after. The “coaxing” part is amping up motivation, which I think has nothing to do with creating habits. In fact, focusing on motivation as the key to habits is exactly wrong.
Let me be more explicit: If you pick the right small behavior and sequence it right, then you won’t have to motivate yourself to have it grow. It will just happen naturally, like a good seed planted in a good spot.
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So what do you think? How have you formed habits in your life – for good or bad? Let me know in the comments below.