I have been working with consumers and understand their patterns for many many years. And I find it fascinating the cognitive disruption that I observe between what people say they want and what they actually do.
A typical example is consumers saying: I like to try out new things.
So then, tell me: when was the last time you grabbed a different yogurt in the supermarket from your usual one?
And I know people are not lying when they claim they would like to try new things; but the brain is a lazy organ and it will always try to go on autopilot whenever it can.
So the chances that you do go out of your usual way to buy that new yogurt product just to try something new are very small; unless you make a conscious planned action out of it.
So let’s dive into how to actually make a change happen in our life.
What do you want to change?
Let’s say you want to start exercise but have not gotten to it yet. You really would like to exercise but somehow you never get into the habit of doing it or you just don’t seem to ever find the time for it. Let’s be even more specific here. Let’s say you want to exercise first thing in the morning. And please note that you can change this statement with whatever change you have in mind, I am just taking this as one example.
So in this post, I am going to share with you what I have learned about how to change habits.
In 4 ‘simple’ steps.
Let’s dive right into it.
Step 1: Know Your Why
As Simon Sinek would say: Start with Why. And it applies here too. If you don’t have a compelling reason for why you want to make a change, the rest of the steps will eventually fail. This is where you get deep honest with yourself.
Why do you want to exercise? There’s no such thing as two trivial or too shallow of a why. If it’s true and meaningful for you, then that is all that matters. And you’re off to a great start.
You’ve got to be patient with yourself here though. Sometimes it takes several times and iteration to get to your real why.
So, here are some questions to think about while you’re formulating your own Why:
- What’s the honest reason you want to start exercising?
- Do you want to fit into your clothes better?
- Do you want to feel comfortable when you’re intimate with your partner?
- Do you want to be more active with your children?
- What’s that why?
Write it down.
Then I want you to take that reason and ask yourself ‘Why is this reason important to you? This takes things a little bit deeper and cuts through some of that BS that might be on the surface. It’s important to know why is the reason important to you.
Now, I want you to imagine your wake up rings and you see the snooze button there on the bottom of your screen. You went to bed late last night, it is 6 am and you see the snooze option. Considering the reason you just came up with, your WHY, is that reason compelling enough for you to push stop rather than snooze and get up?
If you’re thinking maybe or a definite no, I would snooze, I would challenge you that your compelling reason is probably not strong enough. This is again where that patience comes in and you’ve got to kind of go back and ask yourself why do you want to do this. Why do you want to start exercise in the morning?
It’s something you’ve got to keep working at and you will notice that the why’s can change. So, depending on seasons of life or what’s going on, your why might change. So it’s a good thing to revisit it and keep strong on why you want to start.
For 7 times, you should ask the question ‘and why do you want that’. This exercise forces you to go really deep into your motivations and, when you go to that level, your why is so fundamentally routed into yourself that it will be so much easier to stick to your commitment if they are consistent with your why.
Step 2: Have A Plan
If you go into the early morning expectations, just casually, when your brain is not up and running yet, and your alarm goes and interrupts your deep dreams, I promise you that the urge will come on strong and, even in the best case scenario, you’ll find yourself sleeping in until you have to rush into your morning hectic!
The best thing you can do is to create a plan before your laziness’ triggers take over. By doing this, you’re going to use your prefrontal cortex. That’s the front part of your brain, or your rational brain, and it represents what you really want – that you want to start exercising in the morning.
In doing this, you’re going to make decisions ahead of time and then you’re going to honour that commitment to yourself. There is no deciding in the moment, the decision has already been made.
In other words: the plan becomes non-negotiable.
Now, it’s important to remember here that if you’ve been doing this for a long time, i.e. snoozing and sleeping in, the lower part of your brain sees that as familiar and easy go-to pattern. So every morning it’s going to look for that, scan for that easy and familiar pattern and it’s going to say “oh no, it’s too early, snooze, snooze, snooze”.
By developing a plan, we’re going to take that lower brain out of play, so that you actually end up with the result that you want in the end, which is to get up and go exercise.
Now, this lower brain is going to probably try with some different thoughts to get you to do the status quo.
It’s going to get you through things like “I deserve it, it’s been a hard day yesterday” or “just 10 more minutes of sleep won’t hurt”.
It’s important that you do not entertain these thoughts!
The other thing to remember about plans is that you may have different plans depending on whether you’re going to be home, or out of town, by yourself, or with others, during the week or in the weekend. And a few things to consider on your plans:
It it’s really helpful to be as specific as possible about your plan.
So, for example, if you only plan to exercise in the weekend then your plan needs to reflect that etc. The more realistic your plan is, the higher the chances that you will stick to it . Some people cannot go from one to ten in a day. Like I said: this takes time. So all you want to do is come up with what you can do, what can your plan be that’s an improvement for you today? And then you keep reevaluating that plan and keep improving, improving, improving.
James Clear in Atomic Habits talks about implement 1% improvement every day. He explains that being dedicated to making small changes consistently and continuously will decrease the barrier of the bigger goal and, in the long run, will make you be more successful than if you were trying to make big changes all at once. He talks about implementing tiny improvements that don’t make the headlines but that really work for You.
You want to achieve and celebrate your successes and progress, but have to approach it with a long term vision. Don’t expect to go from 1 to 10 over night.
Step 3: Anticipate The Obstacles
We’ve all had those times where we’ve planned everything out but then we didn’t think about the what if’s. So this is where we think ahead of time about all the obstacles, which might get in the way of our plan. And then we counteract each of these obstacles with further direction for our brain.
Remember, we don’t want that lower brain to weigh in on the decision because it’s always going to choose the snooze. So we want that prefrontal cortex, that rational part, to be thinking here ahead of time to lay out a good framework for us.
Now, if you’re like me, if you want to sleep in in the morning, it’s usually because you feel tired and want to rest. You don’t want to be involved in all this planning. However, at least in the beginning, if you want to start exercise in the morning, you are going to have to be prepared and practice with your plan to address obstacles. If you encounter resistance when you’re doing this, the best advice I can give you is to go back to your why.
So, again, why do you want to start exercising?
Is your reason compelling enough to look at that resistance and do it anyway?
Will you follow through?
Some of the prompts you might want to think about, when you start listing your obstacles, are to ask yourself:
‘What would be the reason why I might skip exercising tomorrow?‘.
So, let’s say that you had one glass of wine too many with your partner the night before and you weren’t planning for that. What would that mean for your plans of exercising tomorrow morning? Would that be a reason you would skip exercising tomorrow? And if so, what are you going to do to still be able to get up tomorrow and exercise? And the second question is: How can you counteract that to honour your commitment?
To deal with some of the obstacles, you might want to reaching out for support. Maybe you want to start a journal and write down your thoughts. Some people find that meditation or deep breathing really can actually slow down, and actually help you. Maybe you want to exercise with a friend and knowing that the friend is counting on you showing up tomorrow will give you an additional reason to stick to your commitment.
The idea here is to help you refocus on your why and on your plan.
Step 4: Practice, Practice, Practice
I cannot say that enough: PRACTICE! REPEAT!
Think about it: If you were learning a new language, you wouldn’t just buy an instruction manual and hope for the best, right? You would instead have a method and plan for it. Book time in your calendar and don’t expect to be able to speak the new language until months and practicing hours later. This process is actually really similar. To start exercising in the morning you’ve got to spend the time getting clear on:
- why you want to start,
- how you plan to start,
- how you’re going to deal with the obstacles and
- then you’re just going to practice until it became a habit for you.
And, I don’t know about you, but this is fabulous news for me, because if you’re someone who does not exercise today, you’re going to get the opportunity to practice everyday!
Now listen, there’s going to be days when you do this beautifully. Everything’s gonna go according to plan and this will be powerful because you’re going to be building evidence to support your belief that you can do this. Don’t forget these occasions.
You can start having a habit log, where every time you have an evidence you note it down. Don’t forget these occasions because this is what you’re going to need in those tough times to propel you forward.
On the other hand, there’s going to be mornings when you slip. And the most important thing is to remember the difference between slipping and completely reverting to your old habits or your thoughts.
Reflect on exactly where you slipped and what you were thinking at the time. Learn something from the experience and practice it again the next time you have the chance.
Tom Sterner, the author of The Practicing Mind, has this great framework: it’s called “Do, Observe and Correct.” It’s just this.
He says: “There’s no mistakes, there’s just learning opportunities.”
So, you do something, you observe what went right and wrong, and then you correct it for the next time. And you just keep going. It’s rinse and repeat.
The more you practice, the better you will get at following your plan and addressing your obstacles. It’s eventually going to be automatic and I promise you, exercising in the morning or whatever change you want to implement in your life will become part of your today. You’ve got to put in the work with patience & persistence, honesty, and practice and you can do it.
I have I got a freebie here for you!
It is an awesome download that gives you 4 steps that will guide you to implement a new new habits or change an old habit and IT WORKS. You will be able to walk yourself through the steps you need to take for any change you want to make in your life, and grow your own self-confidence.
Get Chiara 4 Steps Checklist To Make Any Change You Want In Your Life Happen. For Good
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