This is a picture of Pysche being tempted to pounce on (eat?) Oatmeal the rabbit. Thankfully, Oatmeal is protected by a cage and isn’t dependent upon Pysche’s willpower for her safety.
In working towards changing a habit, we talk about having willpower. What is willpower? Basically, it’s not giving in to an immediate urge in order to achieve a longer term goal. Call it self-control, discipline or restraint, it’s required for changing or adopting new habits. It sounds simple but we all know it isn’t that simple. After a few weeks (days?), when we don’t see overnight results, and the initial excitement of what can be wears off, those urges for the old ways kick in. The childlike part of our brain starts talking over the more rational part of our brain and we begin to tell ourselves “One time won’t hurt”, or “I deserve this” to justify reverting back to the habit we’re trying to break.
We all know this, so why do we still cave to the craving? Through reading, attending webinars, and listening to people successfully reaching their goals that require habit changes, I’ve determined there are a few things required for successful habit changes, and they all deal with mindset.
1. Focus on the “doing” versus the end result.
This is counter to what we typically hear. In fact, “begin with the end in mind” is the second habit in Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a bestselling book that has positively impacted so many. I’m not saying the end result isn’t important and that we should ignore it, but in order to get there, what’s working for me at least, is focusing on adopting the actions that our desired result requires.
For example, if I currently live paycheck to paycheck but want to go on a fancy vacation, I have to save money. I need to develop a plan and new habits that will get me to my goal. If I want to save a certain amount of money, I have to start behaving like a person who saves money versus continuing my current spending habits. In other words, I have to start living today like the type of person I want to become.
2. Aim for progress not perfection.
Often, we give up on something the first or second time we goof up. This all or nothing mentality is the bane of changing habits and meeting our goals. I once heard someone say, “The golfer that wins the tournament is not necessarily the person who got a hole-in-one, but the golfer that most consistently got closest to the hole each time.” Our aim should not be a hole-in-one, but to do our best each time in getting as close to the hole as possible. Sometimes we’ll get a hole-in-one but most times we’ve made great forward progress towards our goal.
For example, if you want to run a 5K and currently do not run, you aren’t going to go out and run a 5K on your first day of training. You’re going to start small and build up. The most important thing you’re going to do is get out there and run. Let’s say you decide to run a mile six days your first week. You get up early Monday through Friday and hit the road just as you planned. But then Saturday comes and it’s drizzling and cold. You just want to curl up under a blanket on the couch to a good book or movie. But you’re now a runner, and runners run! So, what are you going to do? You’re going to tell yourself that the best you can do today is run around the block. You put on your running clothes, tighten your shoelaces and go off and run around the block. Most times you will keep running, maybe even getting in the whole mile. But, even if you do stop after one block, you still ran. You are a runner! If you hadn’t gone out to run, you may have started telling yourself you can’t do this, that you didn’t hit your goal in the first week and totally given up on your goal. Having gotten out and run, you have a more positive mindset. You got up off the couch and ran, regardless of how far. Your momentum to keep up with your plan continues! Repetition of the action strengthens our discipline in doing them.
3. Believe you can.
In earlier weeks of this series, I talked about affirmations and the beliefs/ actions/ results cycle. Whether we use affirmations, have mantras we repeat, etc. we need to be positive and encouraging to ourselves. You wouldn’t tell your best friend they suck because they tripped up on the path towards their goal, so don’t tell yourself that. We’re human beings and humans stumble along the way toward learning new things.
The Results Pyramid from Change the Culture Change the Game by Roger Connors and Tom Smith shows us how our experiences influence our beliefs, which influence our actions, which drive results which become our experiences that drive our beliefs… and continue the circular cycle. The book is focused on organizational culture, but we can apply the Results Pyramid concept to our individual desire to change.
What do you believe about yourself, or external factors related to achieving your goal? Do those beliefs help or hinder your progress? When your thoughts towards changing your habits are negative and saying you can’t, stop, take a breath, and tell yourself you can. Create and continually reinforce your belief that you can make the changes you want.
4. Plan ahead for periods of low self-control.
One of the biggest parts of successfully adopting new habits is setting ourselves up for success. That means making sure we have the right equipment and resources, but it also means thinking ahead about situations that may challenge us.
Let’s stay with our running example. You have a consistent schedule that’s contributed to you meeting your goal of running six days a week, but your kid has an out-of-town soccer tournament coming up. The first day’s schedule is set, but the second day’s schedule depends on game-to-game outcome. You’re also not familiar with the area and not sure you want to run alone in the darkness of early morning or night. What can you do to keep up with your new habit of daily running? Here are some possibilities:
Find out if the hotel has a fitness center or if another parent is a runner that would join you on your run.
Find out if it’s possible for you to get in your run at the soccer fields. Is there is a track or is the area around the soccer fields conducive to you running around them?
Don't let a change in your environment or circumstances derail your progress. Especially when you have time to explore solutions ahead of time, find a way to stick to your habit.
There is no magic willpower pill we can take to perfectly stick to our new habits. I wish there was! But, adopting a mindset of being the type of person who already lives the actions we desire to have, focusing on progress versus perfection, believing in ourselves, and planning for known curves in the road are our best chance of letting our parent brain win out over our child brain in moments of temptation. You can make the hard choice in the moment!
Call to action:
1. Think about a particular desired habit change you struggle to make. Identify a belief you have that may be contributing to your struggle. Replace this hindering belief with a supportive one.
2. Share in the comments one thing in this post that stood out to you.
Would you like 1:1 help with habits you’re trying to change? Schedule your 20-minute Complimentary Consultation and we can discuss how I may be able to help.