I came across an interesting video (above, 24 mins) by James Clear on his four stage approach to establishing good habits. In it he explains each step, gives examples and adds a tip or two for how to carry it out in practice. He also alludes to scientific studies that back up the claims made.
I was particularly interested in this as I was attempting to embed some new habits myself. I started in a flurry but now realise I’ve not got as far as I hoped so it’s a good time to revisit the process to figure out what I may have been doing wrong.
Here’s the four stages, plus my own observations (additional points are made in various other articles on his web site):
1. Noticing The Habit
Point: It’s best to have a concrete plan to address the habit rather than a vague intention.
“Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity.”
Tip: Do a failure pre-mortem – imagine failing and try to think why it happened (and how you’d feel). This helps mature the plan as you can build these insights into it (it should provide extra motivation as well of course).
Recently I decided to join a local health club, partly as I thought it would be good for me and partly because they had an attractive deal (to try to get new members in). I suffer from insomnia and I thought that being fitter might help me get better sleep (this would be an extra perk, quite a strong motivator actually).
Like many others, it all started out well. How to use the equipment was explained and a personal fitness plan agreed (suitable for my age etc). The first few sessions, although it was certainly at a beginner’s level, were quite revealing – I was soaked in sweat in just after 30 mins. I’m not over-weight but I’m obviously not fit.
However after a few nights of really bad sleep, one morning I wasn’t in the mood for the fitness club so I skipped the planned session. And there the rot began, if I skipped once, what would skipping twice matter and so on…
I’m not sure how to get over this one (as there is a physical reason involved not just procrastination) but I have the suspicion that if I had dragged myself there I would have felt better in the end. Partly as I’d be a tiny bit fitter anyway plus building up confidence in overcoming barriers and not giving in to them. See also Point 4 below.
I wouldn’t say I ever looked forward to the sessions but I did feel really good afterwards so somehow I need to focus on the final feeling not the start. I’m sure that when the habit was established I’d quite like going.
2. Wanting The New Habit
Point: Review Your Surroundings.
Tip: The physical environment can affect habit formation in a big way e.g. being surrounded by distractions. Design your environment to encourage good habits.
My own office (I work at home) is rather disorganised with books and items all over the place. I tell myself that this is OK as I’m a creative type but underneath there’s a feeling that I just lack a bit of discipline.
As a immediate way out of this (tidying up my office will take a while and would of course be another distraction) I decided to work in the local library. This was quite good. For instance, reading a book (on business writing) took just a day, including notes. I was quite shocked at the progress I’d made and it made me realise just how time-sapping distractions in my office can be.
3. Doing The New Habit
Point: Just Do It. Getting started is often the problem…
Tip: Use the Two Minute Rule i.e. focus energy and enthusiasm on the start not the finish (once got going, momentum will often carry the activity on naturally).
I’ve found this to be nearly always true. It’s quite strange, as once started things often get quite motivating and it’s hard to think why there was a barrier in the first place. In a way you have to trick yourself (but cleverly).
The trouble is the two-minute rule also works for distractions. I’ll just check this (train times for example) and then start my article afterwards and then one hour later I’m still on the web (anything else interesting going on in London when I visit etc). So perhaps this is more a point of focus, simply schedule all fun, light stuff for after the bulk of the day (which is itself a habit).
4. Liking The New Habit
Point: Think of ways to bring long term advantages into the present moment. Quote from Seth Godin: ‘the best way to change long term behaviour is short term feedback’.
Tip: use the Seinfeld Strategy and focus on not breaking the chain (details of this approach are here) or if you do, get back on track quickly.
I thought I could do this via a digital diary but this didn’t really work (it got lost in all the other stuff I was writing about). I think the idea of having a real calendar stuck on a cork-board in my office would be far more effective (maybe even on the fridge as well).
Time for another go…