You’ve probably heard that willpower is limited. That it’s like a gas tank that is full at the beginning of the day and starts to diminish when you start making decisions.
Everyone has limited willpower which can be improved through mental practice.
But today I’m not writing about willpower.
Instead I’m going to cover the easier, more streamlined approach to life which is called automation or automating your life. On a personal day to day level these automations are your habits.
If you struggle to be consistent with new goals then you’re going to want to pay close attention.
Habits run your life. Really they do!
Whether you’re paying attention or not your automated behaviors determine the structure of your day and the predictable chain of events that’s going to happen to you.
Over 40% of our actions are based on habits. I can predict the state of your health 5, 10 years from now based on what you do daily.
Positive, healthy habits get you closer to an optimal state of living while negative, unhealthy habits detract from that.
Just a few months ago I was reading a book called The Slight Edge. It was a great book that I highly recommend reading because it spoke about the importance of the tiny actions we take or don’t take every day that are seemingly inconsequential.
The difference these tiny actions make in our lives on a day-to-day basis is very minimal.
But these small seemingly unimportant actions add up over the course of a month, a year and a decade just like compound interest.
Where you are right now whether you are out of shape, overweight, not happy about your job, or aren’t happy with your relationships is a byproduct of the actions or lack of actions you took every day in the past.
Having a drink or two every Friday at happy hour is harmless until you do it every week then you realize you’re 5 pounds heavier at the end of the month.
Skipping the gym on Monday’s because it’s a minor inconvenience in your schedule means you will have skipped 52 workouts in a year and put on an extra 10 lbs at the end of 2017.
A quote that I really hits home about this point is,
“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”
I’m not sure who’s quote that is but making a change does not have to big and dramatic. You don’t have to start on a Monday or the beginning of the year.
You can change what you decide to do any time and that change can be of any magnitude you desire.
Steps to Changing Your Habits
**Apply the 20 second rule
In chemistry there is something called activation energy. In order for a potential reaction to happen there must be a minimum amount of energy that is required to get it started called the activation energy.
Activation energy applies to our behaviors and our tendencies to perform a specific action.
Let’s say you’re hungry and tired. You open the fridge to find uncooked chicken breast, green beans, and potatoes. The energy required to cook the meal is a lot more than the energy it takes to call for pizza.
You did tell yourself you’re going to eat healthier this year but right now you don’t feel like it. So 30 minutes later pizza gets delivered to your door.
As humans we are lazy and take the easiest path to reach our goals, the path that takes the least amount of energy. This is what I mean by activation energy.
This applies to all aspects of life. We take the easiest, most comfortable path for ourselves right now even if it is detrimental to our well-being in the future.
This is problematic when we’re trying to create new positive changes in our life.
Reaching our goals is as simple as following a specific set of the right habits to get you there. The goal is simply a byproduct of focusing on a set of the right habits that you form and implement daily.
So how can we drop bad habits like a hot potato and pick up new ones?
**Make the habits you want to form 20 seconds easier to complete.
Want to make it to the gym early in the morning? Lay out the clothes and shoes you plan to wear the night before and have your gym bag packed ready to go.
Want to eat a healthy lunch at work everyday? Pack all your lunches on Sunday afternoons so it’s easy to grab and go out the door.
With habits you want to quit make them 20 seconds harder to complete.
Want to drop that potato chip habit you have late at night? Don’t bring it into the house. If they’re there store them on the highest, most inconvenient shelf you have hidden all the way in the back.
Want to watch less TV? Store the remote in a different room from the TV. Or better yet, remove the batteries and store those in a different room from the remote.
**Do your habit everyday
Gretchen Rubin, author of the Happiness Project, found that when she was working on forming new habits she found it easier to keep them if she had to do them every day instead of several times a week.
If it’s important, do it every day.
Here I wrote what comedian Jerry Seinfeld did to become one of the most successful comedians of all time. Seinfeld became a top performer because he was consistent and he held himself accountable with his calendar method.
You have more control over your actions then your results.
When you figure out the actions you need to take to generate a specific result you will create the reality you want.
If you don’t have everything to pack a healthy lunch the first couple times around pack a lunch anyways and plan better next time.
Woke up a little later and couldn’t get to the bootcamp class at the gym on time? Show up anyways and jump, kick, and squat with whatever time is left.
What counts is not the perfection in your action but taking the action towards the habit you want to develop. Consistent action primes your brain to build that action into a habit which makes it easier to do the next time around.
“The greatest predictor of your future are your daily actions”
**Find A Reliable Buddy
Sometimes it’s easier for us to do something for someone else than it is for ourselves.
Most of us have no problem meeting work deadlines or completing team projects on time or meeting obligations for our families.
Yet, we find ourselves continually breaking resolutions and promises to ourselves. We postpone going to gym or we say we’ll do it next week or when I’m done with [whatever big task you’re using as an excuse].
The solution to this is to find someone to hold you accountable and check in with you at least once a week. This accountability partner could be a friend, a colleague, a neighbor, or a reliable family member.
Get on the phone with them once a week and tell them what you plan to complete this week and check in with them the following week.
Accountability partners are great for lighting a fire under your butt to get things done because it’s just embarrassing to say you’re going to do this but week after week you never get to it.
It’s also a good place for reflection to take a look at your life that maybe your priorities are out of whack or you’re just poor at time management skills. Reflection highlights areas for improvements and having an accountability partner can help you point out areas of weakness that you may have overlooked.
My accountability partner is in Portland and every Sunday he wants me to remind him Mon to Fri to invoice his hours every day. When we have our conversations I use it to organize my calendar for the week and brainstorm areas where I'm stuck.
You don’t necessarily need to get on the phone every week but having a reminder text might just be enough to reinforce a habit you’re trying to develop.
“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” [mic drop]
That quote summarizes this entire email in two sentences. How do develop your habits?
- Make it 20 seconds easier to perform the habit you want to create. Likewise, make it 20 seconds harder to perform a habit you want to drop kick to the curb.
- Do your habit everyday. You’ll create your habit much quicker if you do it every instead of several times a week.
- Have a buddy system. Find someone to hold you accountable and check in with you on a regular basis. Are your buddies just slackers? Reply to this email and I’ll hold you accountable!