What to ACTUALLY Change When You Are “Changing a Habit”
We have all both heard and said the phrase, “change is hard” many times throughout our lifetimes.
If you listen for it, you will hear it muttered almost without fail in the following situations:
- Exactly three weeks after New Year’s Eve
- Anytime I do not want to do something
- When I do want to do something…but am not ready to do it yet
Altering familiar habits is uncomfortable. We humans don’t like uncomfortable. That is why we don’t change very often.
For many, change only occurs when a major, life-altering event makes it clear that you have no other choice. For example, a man is told by his doctor during yearly check-ups for 10 years that he should “lose some weight.” The man answers with, “I know, I know.” However, he will do nothing about it; until, in year 11, he drops to the floor at work one day due to a heart attack.
When his doctor visits him in the hospital and says, “You need to lose some weight,” the man now springs into action and makes changes.
The good news is that you do not have to wait for a life-altering event to make choices for you. As a matter of fact, “change” is much easier than you think…IF you approach it a little differently.
What if I told you that the reason change is so hard is because you are trying to change the wrong thing?
Here are five little things you can change that will help your big habits change themselves.
1. Your Environment
The easiest way to change a habit is to make the habit easy to change. Making small shifts to your environment will make habit changes do-able. If I want to lose weight, but I continue to buy cookies and sit them on the counter, I am not creating an environment that will help me lose weight. If I stop buying the cookies, they are not there to eat. Instead, if I buy my favorite fruit and sit it in a bowl on the counter, I have given myself a better option to reach for every time I walk into the kitchen. It’s easy. If I want to exercise in the morning right after I wake up, I can sleep in my workout clothes and put my running shoes next to my bed. It makes it easy. Want to be more positive, stop watching things like the news constantly. Want to be more focused, turn off all notifications on your phone and put it on the other side of the room. Keep getting caught up in “water cooler talk” at the office, go for a walk on your break instead.
There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment. (Dr. B.J. Fogg, Director of Stanford Persuasive Lab)
What is going on around you will either make it easier or more difficult to accomplish what you want to do. By making little changes to your environment, you instantly take control of the outcome. Make your environment your friend and it will support you in your efforts.
2. Your Expectation of Comfort
Go ahead and cross your arms. Now, cross them the other way. Did it take you a moment to try and figure out how to do that? Why? Because the way you crossed the first time was your autopilot…you know, your comfort zone. You didn’t even have to think about it, it just happened.
But the second time, you had to think. Once you got it, it probably felt “uncomfortable.”
All that really means is “different.” And “different” is not a bad thing.
Different is an awesome thing! It is the only way you know you are growing or improving.
Although your “comfort zone” feels great, nothing ever grows there. Nothing ever moves forward there. Everything stays exactly what it is.
“Comfort is the enemy of achievement.” (Farrah Gray)
In the case of crossing your arms, there isn’t much at stake. However, if you choose to stay in your comfort zone with bigger things in your life — where things are at stake — you will miss opportunities, you will remain stuck, and you will look back at some point and absolutely despise your comfort zone.
Know that “different” is just a feeling.
As author Susan Jeffers so brilliantly said, “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway.” When you take action, regardless of the feeling, you realize how simple change is.
3. Your Unrealistic Expectations.
Steven Covey’s advice to “begin with the end in mind” is powerful and effective. However, I have seen many people get stuck creating an end that is way out of reach by most. You see this all the time with marketing. Have you ever seen a webinar or class being offered that will show you how to make $100K in three months with your coaching practice? Or become a millionaire within the year just by buying and re-selling things online? Or how to get 30 sales a day by using LinkedIn (and, of course, the presenter’s proprietary software)?
Of course you have! Do you notice a trend with those examples (all real examples, by the way)? They set the expectation (the end) so high that 99% of the people who try it will never get anywhere close to that. It creates more disappointment than success. That is why there is always a disclaimer at the bottom that explains how “these results are not typical and are realized by only a very small number.”
“Not all expectations cause disappointment. Only unrealistic expectations do.” (Mridul Singhal)
Embracing much smaller expectations allows you to achieve them! Make your goals small. Then, make more goals! Smaller goals made more often motivate and inspire you to keep taking action, because you see and feel the progress. You get to check things off consistently. That breeds confidence, which makes you to want to keep changing.
4. Your Lack of a Plan
Please, don’t just jump right in. This is exactly why New Years Resolutions are almost never sustained beyond February 1st. If it matters, you need to make it important; not something taken lightly. A little bit of planning goes a long way. It also allows you to be happy along the way, which is why it is easier to keep going, instead of just at the end goal.
Once you embrace do-able expectations, and create smaller goals, you need to put them into a plan. Don’t overthink this. Take your small goals and put them into some sort of order that makes sense (i.e. I will do this first, and then that, and then that). Then, focus on the first small goal…ONLY that goal. Do not focus on anything else in your plan until you have reached that goal. Then, go to the next one and do the same thing. Break it down into smaller tasks.
“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” (Henry Ford)
Think about it. A football team doesn’t have to go 100 yards to score a touchdown; they need to go 10 yards at a time consistently. 10 yards is less daunting than 100 yards and much more do-able. If they gain 10 yards at a time and only succeed 25% of the time (get a first down every four downs) they score every time.
You will be amazed at how a simple plan and a little bit of focus can make it so you don’t even realize you are changing! It is happening so subtly that, all of a sudden, you are exactly where you want to be because you focused on small steps instead of the enormity of the end.
5. Your Lack of Accountability
You have probably heard the advice to tell a bunch of people that you are changing something or trying to reach a goal. The thinking is that you are more apt to succeed if you feel accountable to do it because you don’t want to feel like you “failed” in front of everyone.
The concept makes sense and, in certain instances, can be a helpful motivator. While accountability is a big deal, I am going to suggest that you may be placing your accountability in the wrong place to succeed.
Let’s shift accountability. Instead of telling other people so they can root for you and tell you they believe in you and how they know you can do it, we are going to try something drastic. Are you ready? YOU are going to make a commitment to yourself. YOU are going to believe in yourself. YOU are going to be accountable to yourself.
“It is nobody’s job to believe in you — that is YOUR job.” (Robin Sacks)
When you begin to flex your self-accountability muscle, your ability to thrive and succeed goes through the roof! Why? Because you no longer need to wait for anyone else’s approval. You no longer need to get validation from other people. You no longer need to feel like you are not getting there fast enough. All of those negative and stressful feelings disappear quickly when you replace feeling with action…your action.
“Ninety-nine percent of all failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses.” (George Washington Carver)
People say that change is hard. It is not. The moment you do something differently, you’ve changed. What IS hard is thinking about change and talking about change, but not doing anything to change. That is exhausting.
What facilitates easy change has to do with the thoughts you have, the words you use, and who you put in charge. When you create a “no-fail” environment, take one step outside of your comfort zone, make a do-able plan and tell yourself that you are going to do it, you might be surprised how what initially felt overwhelming begins to feel effortless.