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How to change a habit for lasting positive impact

We are, all of us, creatures of habit - Edgar Rice Burroughs

Our habits are a reflection of us. They have influence over our behaviours, thoughts, feelings, who we choose to be friends with or spend our life with, foods we eat, places we go, teams we support, types of jobs we apply for, lives we lead.

Habits can get swept under the umbrella of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. But what if you had a habit that was preventing you from achieving a specific goal or life ambition, wouldn’t you want to change it? 

What is a habit, and why do they matter?

Habits are behaviours and actions we do without thinking about them. They require a limited amount of input energy, they influence how we think, feel and act. And make up a considerable part of our daily routines.

If left unchecked our habits can steer us off course from the kind of life that fulfils us.

How to identify a habit to change

Many of us will have made a sweeping statement about lifestyle change we’d like to make. Declaring on a Monday that your new diet will commence immediately, or that this year you will be summer-body ready, or you will spend more time doing things that make me happy. Or my personal favourite, I really need to “sort my life out”. Often our actions which follow these declarations don’t match up to our lofty expectations, so we stop and revert back to what is tried and true.

The intent to make a change we believe will have a positive impact is completely valid, but the approach needs some improvement. As the saying goes, “failing to plan is like planning to fail”. The first item on the plan should be to identify the specific habit you want to change that can be a catalyst for making further steps towards the positive impact.

Completing a time, money and energy audit [link to blog post] will show you your current behaviour patterns. Reviewing these will highlight opportunities to amend existing habits or introduce a new habit.

Find a reason to make the change

Change is hard. And for change, any change, to be successful you need to understand, believe and agree on why you are making the change. How motivated or invested in making the change will determine how likely you’ll be at sticking to it long term. The pay-off, positive impact, from making the change needs to align with what’s important to you and your personal values.

 

Completing an Importance/Personal Values list will help you visualise your desired lifestyle. By bringing together different characteristics, behaviours, activities and environments which are most important to you. The change you are looking to introduce needs to get you closer to your desired lifestyle. To make it easier to say “no” to your first impulse for instant gratification. And feel assured you’re really saying “yes” to a longer term deferred gratification.

3 tips for how to successfully change a habit

Once you have identified what habit you want to change and identified how making this change will get you closer to your desired lifestyle, it’s time to put the plan into action. There are a few things to keep in mind to make the adoption process of the change more successful.

1. Remove barriers

Our existing habits have been done so often they form a seamless part of our daily routines. When introducing a new habit or making a change to an existing habit the access to completing the task needs to be as frictionless as possible. Try packing your gym bag the night before and putting it in front of the door so the only thing you have to think about doing in the morning is getting up earlier.

2. Track the effects of the change

Compared to our existing habits the new, or changed habit, will take a considerable amount of effort. Tracking the benefits of the change will help to justify why the extra effort is needed and add more weight to your why, your reason for the change.

3. Set targets and give rewards

Hold yourself accountable to sticking to the plan. Set a clear start and end date for the plan, have goals/targets set for specific intervals and reward yourself when the goals/targets are met. Your long term goal should be your why, your reason for the change. And the shorter term goals should be stepping stones to getting you to fully adopt the new habit.

Bonus tip 4. Learn your triggers

Becoming more self-aware will help you to navigate environments which are likely to trigger the habit you are working to change.

Revisit your energy audit and practice mindfulness exercises to develop awareness of energy boosting and energy draining environment in real time. Which will enable you to modify your behaviour when in an environment that is draining for a more positive outcome.

A few things to remember when you want to change a habit

Change is hard and to have a lasting positive impact you need to

  1. Be specific about what you want to change. Broad sweeping statements can make the change seem overwhelming and difficult to achieve.
  2. The outcome of the change should align with your values and what’s important to you.
  3. Remove barriers which will restrict the adoption of the change.
  4. Record the benefits of the change to reinforce your motivations.
  5. Set a clear timeframe with incremental targets and rewards. To keep yourself accountable to maintaining the change.
  6. Develop self-awareness to help you navigate challenging environments for a positive outcome.

If you find you are struggling to keep the new habit in your routine be kind to yourself. Ask yourself what it is you are struggling with and then modify your plan to remove that barrier. There is some science to around how long it takes to develop a new habit. Some say 90 days, some say slightly more or slightly less. The important thing is to keep going until you don’t have to think about doing it and it becomes second nature.

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