Going deeper into behavior change – a look at habits
There’s no shortage of books about how to positively change your behavior. Lucky for you, I’ve read many of these books and think about habits as part of behavior change for my job daily. The science of behavior change is much more than changing one small thing in your life, but one way to change behavior is to impact habits and make change easier for people. It’s important to consider barriers to habit change, and to fully understand what it really takes to change your behavior.
You’ll find conflicting research about how long it really takes to change habits. Some say 28 days, others much longer. Recent studies say it actually depends on the habit. If something is an easier change to your life, it may take less time to adopt it. If it’s a full-scale change to how you’ve lived your life, give yourself some grace and don’t give up if it takes more time. One of the greatest takeaways in the books referenced below is that dedication in the process to change is potentially even more important than the change itself.
One of the most-read books on habits in the last few years is Atomic Habits, by James Clear. The book is a good reminder to all of us about how to create change in our lives. Here are my three favorite takeaways from his book:
WHAT TYPE OF PERSON ARE YOU: The lesson that lingers with me most from Clear’s book is the notion of who you wish to be. He recommends asking yourself “what type of person do you want to be?” This recommendation hit me deep. Do I want to be someone who binges reality TV at night? Or do I want to be a reader, a runner, or someone who actually gets a decent amount of sleep? Once you’ve decided that, it’s easier to put yourself in the types of situations you should be in for the type of person you want to be. Clear writes, “the most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do.”
OUTCOMES WILL COME: A lesson most need to learn with habit change is that change (change in your body, change in your mindset, etc.), doesn’t happen overnight. In some cases, you might even feel worse before you feel better. Reminding yourself that “you are what you repeat” can help you stay on track. Clear writes that you should be more worried about the process and the trajectory than the results. He writes, “when you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy.”
SHOW UP: Clear reminds us that the path to good habits starts with just showing up. When you decide what type of person you want to be and you start to work those changes into your day, show up for them. If you want to read more, pick up a book and read. Even doing it for 2 minutes is better than not doing it at all, because then you are on the trajectory to creating the habit. One of my favorite quotes from the book is that “successful people show up despite the feelings of boredom.” He goes on to say, “professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way.” Running on a treadmill can be boring, but showing up, doing it, and working through the boredom gets you to the results. Clear also recommends giving yourself grace: you can miss one day and not give up or be mad at yourself, but don’t miss two.
THE POWER OF HABIT
KEYSTONE HABITS: Duhigg coined the term, “Keystone Habits,” meaning the habit or habits that lead to multiple positive behaviors and effects in your life. Author and Pastor Craig Groeschel frequently remarks that flossing is his keystone habit. If he keeps up with flossing, everything else falls into place. It can sound silly but think about your life. If you stop running, you might stop drinking as much water, or eating healthy, because without running, you feel worse about yourself and you turn to poor behaviors. People who exercise regularly might be more productive at work, have more patience and feel less stressed. Getting enough sleep could easily be a keystone habit that impacts your daily outlook.
THE POWER TO CHANGE
The Power to Change, written by Craig Groeschel, pulls many of the same theories as the others. Groeschel talks about discipline and training. “Trying doesn’t work. Training does. Training is a commitment to strategic habits you do before the moment that equip you to do the right thing in the moment.” He also writes that “discipline is choosing what you want most over what you want now.”
Aligning with Clear’s idea of falling in love with the process, Groeschel encourages us to make the action of doing habit the win. Losing weight is not the win; walking 10,000 steps each day is. If you think like this, you get to win every day.
Habit change and working on yourself can greatly increase your mindset. Thinking about who you want to be requires action on changing your environment and setting yourself up for success. In their book “Switch,” Chip and Dan Heath call this Shaping the Path. If I want to exercise in the morning, I should set out my clothes the night before, put my running shoes right by my bed, and create the environment that leads to success. At VI, we work with smokers to create an environment that makes them not want to smoke – we encourage them to clean out their car, put mints in the console, and give themself something to do with their hands.
For me, the best decision I made was to start with a few key changes I knew I wanted to make. A daily habit tracker became essential for me to track progress and see what I had accomplished. I didn’t try to tackle reading, running, flossing every day, drinking more water and better sleep habits all at once, I decided what my keystone habit would be and then added more habits in as some became more routine.
All authors also mention giving yourself grace and falling in love with the process. Remember, you are what you repeatedly do. Who do you want to be?
Learn more about 30 Days of Change.