Things were going great! I was on top of all my work and tasks at home, eating well and exercising regularly. I would get up every morning motivated and ready to take on anything. Inevitably something comes up. Life happens especially in 2020 when pivoting happens every week. We could have the greatest intentions to get things done, but the minute we get distracted, overwhelmed or tired, we fall back on habits, good or bad. How do we get good habits that stick?
Self-Control versus Habits
We are all creatures of habit. According to Wendy Wood, author of Good Habits, Bad Habits, 43% of our daily actions are motivated by habits that we do automatically. These are behaviors we do without making decisions and usually while thinking about something else.
In her studies she found the key to success has nothing to do with intelligence, talent or motivation. When we consider the most successful people we know, we associate their achievement with self-control. They could get better grades, have happier relationships, are more productive, weigh less, or are financially independent.
Recent research by Angela Duckworth shows that people who had high self-control scores didn’t reach their goals by exerting control. Think of every person that’s been on a diet or exercise plan, they may lose all the weight, but several years later they gain it all back. I’ve been there and I’m starting to work my way back down again. This time my healthy habits stick. Why? Because I’m making healthy eating and exercise a part of my routine. Now it’s a lifestyle change, not a diet. Rather than muscling their way with self-control and determination, successful people know how to form habits to help them reach their goals.
By establishing a good habit system, when you do hit that obstacle or get stressed, you can rebound faster and stay on track. The best part is when you make your good choices automatic, you don’t have to make those decisions reducing stress and overwhelm. When habits are subconscious, we free up mental capacity to work on our big goals.
Be Kind to Yourself
We have to give ourselves grace As humans, we are not perfect. We can learn from our mistakes and keep going. With self-control, when we get off track, we feel like failures. Habits allow us to keep our goals bite-sized, achievable, and rewarding. Celebrate the small victories!
Go With the Flow
Choose the path of least resistance. We want to make our habits as easy as possible. Small tasks that are so quick and simple, they almost seem ridiculous. We need to reduce the “friction” and make it easier to repeat our desired actions. Set yourself up for success. Put your planner in the center of your desk. Put your running shoes next to the bathroom door so you see them first thing in the morning.
Repetition is the Key
I know we’ve talked about S.M.A.R.T. goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant & Rewarding, and Time Sensitive. I’m tweaking one little step in this goal setting process for myself. Time sensitive shouldn’t be a deadline. That requires self-control to make sure I hit every mile stone. Plus it’s a tremendous let down when I don’t hit that target deadline.
I’ve already messed up on the deadlines I set for myself this year. I accept it and know that much of it I couldn’t control. Some of it has to do with the way I set my habits. The reality is that I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I couldn’t get things done. I believed I didn’t have enough drive and determination.
The one change I made in the last half of the year is to focus on consistency. I set a definitive time to do my tiny task. I’m no longer setting a hard deadline for my goals. I’m making small habits and tasks happen every day. How long can you keep it going? The longer you can keep your habits going, the stronger they will be, the more these habits stick.
Make the Compound Effect Work for You
You are what you do every single day. You may think that your seemingly small habit is no big deal. “Little, everyday decisions will either take you to the life you desire or to disaster by default.” – The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy.
Watch Those Triggers
We have to make our triggers work for us and not against us. I know I’ve done it – I go into another room, see something and it spirals me into a totally different direction. All of a sudden I’ve lost a chunk of time and find myself scrambling to get back on track.
We can make triggers work for us. Put your planner over the sink so you check your schedule. Put your laptop next to the coffeemaker so you check your budget. Use the visual cues to get you to do what you need to do. You can also use friction to stop you from doing a bad habit. Like moving your kids’ snacks from the pantry to a different location so you don’t instantly see and want them.
Stack and Piggyback Your Habits
Identify the habits you already do. You wake up, check your phone, have some coffee… Whatever you do without fail, attach your new habits to these existing habits. When you go to the bathroom, you might take a minute to wipe the mirror and the counter. When you take your dishes to the kitchen, wash and put them in the dishwasher. One habit follows the other immediately after. These can build out over time so you have a whole chain of things you do on autopilot.
Consider piggybacking tasks… This works especially well with the menial tasks that you already do without thinking. You could listen to a podcast while you’re cleaning or walking. To get more movement into my day, I do squats while I’m brushing my teeth and lunges when I load and unload the dishwasher. I also make sure I stand up and do a few stretches after I finish each work task so I don’t sit for 8 plus hours in one place.
Keep Yourself Accountable
This is where your habit tracker is key. I always thought “I didn’t need a habit tracker. I know what I have to do….” The reality is that when I get distracted, I have to deal with a problem at home, or just run overtime at work. The habit tracker tells me where I left off. Many use planners or paper trackers. I am currently using a combination. I started with a basic grid planner (you can grab yours below) and gradually gravitated to digital. Trello tracks my overall day and syncs to my phone so I’ll always have it wherever I go. Plus I can set deadlines to give me an extra reminder.
For new habits that I’m trying to establish, I started using a more focused paper planner. Hanging on a clipboard next to my desk, it’s a visual cue to get me to get things done.
Most importantly, I am part of the Motivated Mama Society. Chelsea Brennan has put together an amazing group of women from all different levels, backgrounds, and perspectives. The roadmap and masterclasses have helped set a solid foundation and mindset that I needed to really get where I want to go. So much about what I learned about habits has come from the lessons taught in the society. It’s a safe place full of encouragement and support. For all the mamas out there, you should join us! They’re re-opening in January!
Remember Start Small
If you’re just starting, this is probably a lot to take in all at once. Just start by thinking about your current habits and what you’d like to change. Pick one. Yes, just one. Start with one until it becomes a part of your routine, then keep building from there. We all have the same habit potential. We just need to know how to make those habits work for us.