To Create Habits That Stick, Change The Way You Make Changes
There’s more to it than just going cold turkey on yourself.
It’s that time of the year, where everyone starts to hone in on their habits or resolve to make new ones.
The thing with habits is that we tend to make dramatic changes too quickly that it shocks our system into entrenching it even more.
Losing a habit is like trying to lose weight — if you go cold turkey without actually understanding what it is you’re doing, it can backfire.
And it can backfire really bad.
The sheer force of will power alone doesn’t work for 99% of us. We’re not all Rocky Balboa and transforming our habits doesn’t have to be a fight against yourself.
Start with the REAL why
We all have our reasons for wanting to change. While it can be for a good cause, many of us are actually misguided.
This is because the reason for a change may be weak or shallow. We’re only doing it because we believe we should or because everyone else is doing it.
We’ve been influenced to wake up at 5 am or to drink that green smoothie or start learning a particular language.
Habits stick when we find it useful for us — and to discover it’s usefulness, you need to look at the real reason why you need to change.
Often, when it comes to habits, wanting it to happen is not enough. You have to need it in order to properly instigate and create long-lasting change.
There’s no point for waking up at 5 am just because you’ve read somewhere that it’ll give you more time. Waking up at 5 am is a solution to a problem. If you don’t have a problem, doing the deed will be much harder than it needs to be.
But if you do have a time problem and don’t look into the root cause, waking up at 5 am is not going to change much. Your old patterns are still going to be there — just shifted.
You need to identify the problem and need for change in order to properly figure out the right habit for your situation, rather than applying a habit and hope that it sticks.
What are your current patterns?
A habit is a pattern that we perform on a regular basis. When we understand our patterns — the what, why and how — we begin to understand ourselves.
Without this understanding, what we end up doing is trying to change ourselves into an idea that’s based on the images projected by others.
When we understand our patterns, we allow ourselves to uncover the truth to who we really are. We bring into focus the things that make us who we are and increase our personal self-awareness.
A lot of us go through life feeling empty and hollow, yearning for something bigger and greater. We get stuck in a cycle of unhappiness that we don’t know how to fix. So we try and do something different without first figuring out and observing the sources of our unhappiness.
Our patterns make us who we are and in order to improve and grow, we need to mold it into something that coincides with what we want to actually achieve.
In order to make changes, you need to be able to be objective about your current self.
To do this, you need to sit back, observe and record your current existence in its current state against unbiased measurements like time and sequence of actions.
Only then can you start to analyze yourself without assumptions or prejudice.
How can you influence yourself?
When you’re using will power, what you’re trying to do is bend metal with your bare hands. But when you learn to influence yourself, you’re gently heating up your habits so that it becomes malleable and easier to work with.
Influence is the act of persuading someone to do something with minimal friction. Influence contains the ability to change the trajectory of choice for a person.
To influence yourself, you need to be able to imagine a future version of yourself.
This person isn’t just someone that’s gone on a 30-day binge journey but is ultimately the same person that you are currently now. This future you is the transformed version — the smarter, the stronger, the healthier, the calmer and richer version of who you want to become.
This person is three-dimensional in shape, thinking skills and decision making.
This person is the person you aspire to be.
Will power is overrated.
Aspiration is much stronger.
It also gives you direction and something concrete to work towards.
What’s your friction?
It’s one thing to dream about the future you. It’s another to create the change needed to get there.
If you have to use will power, you’re probably doing it wrong. Habits are frictionless for a reason. Friction is a force that pushes you back into your old routines.
Friction can come in many forms. It may be the current environment or the way things are currently working.
For me, 5 am wake ups are a struggle because of the following reasons:
- the toddler may wake up around 11pm or at 2am, meaning that it cuts deep into my sleeping hours
- client meetings are often at night for me because of timezones. Their 10am is usually my 9–10pm, which I’m happy to work with.
- waking up at 5am doesn’t guarantee me more actual hours. The toddler has superpowers to detect when I’m awake in the morning and always want to escape from her room
- I don’t mind spending my nights working and having daylight hours to do the things I want to do
Creating change will create various points of friction against current systems and patterns. I will need to change the way I work and my routines with my toddler to achieve a 5 am wake up time.
However, if I reframe and actually look into the issue that a 5 am wake up is supposed to solve, then I can effectively figure out the right habit and friction points in my current patterns and routines.
For me, balanced time is a current issue.
Changing my wake up hour is not going to help me re-balance my time.
Based on observation, I’m starting to notice that there are various time sinks in my life.
The most obvious time sink that I can see right now is that I spent at least an hour to two hours combined, driving to and from daycare.
While I might have gotten rid of official work commute, I’m now finding myself stuck in a different kind of daily travel. There are several options for solving this problem, which comes at various costs:
- move daycare closer to home, at the price of a higher attendance fee
- move place of residence (which doubles up as my office) closer to daycare
- rent out a desk at the shared space next to the daycare to cut down travel time that comes with travel to and from daycare and then back again
The friction against finding more time is location-based, making it an environmental one. It’s within my control and changing that will have a ripple effect change for my current time ratios and how I spend them.
For this, I don’t need to wake up earlier.
I just need to move — either myself or the toddler.
Once one of the moves happen, it means that I’ll have space for new pattern and habits to flourish and establish itself.
Effective and lasting change happens when you understand the problem you’re trying to solve. Habits that are externally inspired don’t often stick as well as one that’s internally fueled.
Changing a habit without figuring what the actual problem is will only create a yo-yo dieting effect — where you end up relying on will power rather than methodically work your way through why you do the things you do.
Self-awareness is something no one really talks about when it comes to changing the patterns in our lives. We’re often told to just jump right in without diagnosing the actual problem.
We want to change because we’re not happy with the way things are currently working. Work out what that unhappiness is, trace your way around until you find the source and then decide if changing a habit is actually needed.
Because sometimes, solving a problem can ripple effect out a change in your current habits and make your life better without any additional required effort.