You can tell a lot about a person by their habits.
Do they wake up and make their bed first thing every morning? – Then they probably value organization and cleanliness; or a sense of control.
Do they stay up late watching reality tv when they should be sleeping? – They probably lack a little self-discipline (ahem, it’s me).
Last week I started writing this blog post all about habits: how we can determine which habits we want to adopt or get rid of, how we can stick with them, and what developing good, healthy habits can really do for our lives. And it ended up being a trillion pages long. So I thought – why not break it down each week into smaller parts and dive further into detail on each of those parts?
Hey.. at least I’m being productive during quarantine, right? Can I get an amen? Thanks.
So..habits. I mentioned last week that in order for a habit to stick.. really get slammed against the glass window and stay there leaving a smudge, it has to check off three important boxes:
- The habit must be simple
- The habit must be enjoyable
- The habit must be in line with who you’re wanting to become
Easy enough, right? So what makes a habit “simple” – and how do you set them?
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Creating Simple Habits
What I consider to be simple might be difficult for someone else, and vice versa. If I already run 3 miles every day, it might be “simple” for me to add an extra 0.1 miles onto the end of my run each day to work on the habit of running a longer distance or a 5k – because I’m already out there running. It would be way easier for me to do that than for someone who hasn’t run in over a year to run a 5k. For them – this habit may be too difficult to implement at the moment.
For the person who hasn’t been out running in over 365 days, they might first need to get new running shoes. And then they need to figure out a time of day they’re going to run. And if they’re wanting to run 3.1 miles they first have to run that first mile – and then the second, and then the third. And if they’re out of practice, they might forget that running can be a lot of work so after the first day it might not sound fun to do it again tomorrow.
If a habit is too complicated, you’re not going to do it. End of story. You might try, and then when you don’t succeed right away because you’ve taken on too much too soon, you’ll write it off as being way too difficult and you’ll never touch that habit again. It happens all the freaking time. I’ve seen it happen with my own habits, I’ve seen it happen with my clients’ habits, and I’ve seen it from the outside looking in on other people’s habits.
We, collectively as a group of people, tend to have the nasty habit of focusing on ALL THE THINGS instead of the small steps that will actually get us to complete all those things. What you can do instead is try breaking down your habits (AND your goals) into smaller, simpler habits. Ones that will be so easy you’ll feel silly for how effortless they are.
For example: if you want to lose a significant amount of weight, you’re probably going to need to change some of your habits. But when you think about the big picture: losing 50 pounds, and you start to think of all the things you’re going to “have” to do to reach that goal, it can become overwhelming. Because gosh.. you need to lose 50 pounds. And that’s no easy feat. And in order to do that, you’re going to need to exercise. Probably every day. And to exercise, you’re going to need to get up early, which will stink because you like to stay up late watching Netflix. So you’re going to have to go to bed earlier, oh – and also meal prep is pretty important. But you hate cooking and don’t have time to go to the grocery store. So you’re probably going to need to rearrange your weekends so Sunday can become meal prep day. And you can’t snack anymore. Only salads for you from now on. OH! And don’t forget about drinking water. Water is probably something you should drink more of. So no more soda. Ever. At all. Should probably cut out coffee too. Oh my gosh losing 50 pounds is hard. That’s too much. It’s not gonna happen, is it? Nope, might as well forget about it. Maybe you’ll start next month. Yeah – you’ll probably feel more ready by then.
See what just happened? You just talked yourself out of doing something before you even started it. Don’t pretend like you haven’t had a similar internal dialogue with yourself in the past. We all have. Because it’s human nature to focus on too much, too fast. We look at our main goal, and instead of breaking it down into smaller steps – more attainable steps, we get too overwhelmed by all the things that we quit before we even start.
Instead, let’s choose that same goal but give it a different approach.
You want to lose 50 pounds. Great. Today, you’re going to put on your running shoes when you get home from work. That’s it. Maybe you’ll go outside and run, or walk – or maybe you won’t. But your running shoes are going on those feet when you get home from work today.
And tomorrow, you’re going to put on your running shoes again when you get home from work.
The habit you’re working on implementing isn’t actually exercising. But it’s the first step. A step so dang easy, it doesn’t even feel like you’re doing anything. Maybe you’ll put on your running shoes and still sit and do nothing. Okay. That’s fine. But the more you follow through with this habit, the more likely you are to be to a) stick with it, and b) actually get outside (or inside) and move. Because your shoes are already on. You might as well do something, right? And something – as simple and little as it may be, is better than nothing. And that’s a fact.
Because yesterday you didn’t put on running shoes with the intention of using them, did you? But today you did. And tomorrow you will again. Because you are someone who now puts on running shoes, and eventually you’ll be someone who uses those running shoes.
Don’t focus on ALL THE THINGS you need to do to lose the 50 pounds however many weeks or months from now that it takes. Instead, focus on the small things you can do TODAY, to be healthier and closer to that mark TOMORROW.
I was listening to a podcast recently that featured the author of Atomic Habits, by James Clear. He was giving the example of a client of his who over time lost 100 pounds. I can’t remember the time frame given, but when he first was working on adopting better habits, he set a rule for himself. Every day he would go to the gym, but he wasn’t allowed to stay there longer than 5 minutes. Yep. Five minutes ONLY. So he would go, do half of a lifting move, and leave. Every day. What he was doing was SO SIMPLE that it was easy for him to stick to, but it created that HABIT of going to the gym every day. So when he started to add time onto those 5 minutes, it felt like nothing. Certainly nothing too difficult to continue to do.
Did people probably wonder why he didn’t stay very long? Maybe. Did he let it bother him? He might have – but if he did, he shook it off and kept at it. What this guy did, was he adopted the habit of going to the gym, and he made it so freaking easy that it STUCK.
He didn’t sit around thinking about the 100 pounds he wanted or needed to lose. He didn’t focus on how hard it would be to lose that weight, or the food he’d have to give up, the meals he’d have to start prepping and eating. He didn’t focus on how many days per week he’d have to workout or what types of workouts he’d have to do. Nope. Instead, he thought about going to the gym for just five minutes. Just get there. Just walk in the door. Just physically be present in that gym everyday for five minutes.
And by doing that, he learned how to create simple, attainable habits and he learned how to stick to them and ultimately he lost 100 pounds.
A HUGE goal, accomplished by starting with a really small, simple step.
How Can I Create Simple Habits?
I would encourage you to think about what your goal is. Write it down, make it a real goal by giving it life putting pen to paper.
Now, what are some things you can do to change what you’re currently doing, and actually get you to that goal?
Write down those ideas.
Then, pick the easiest ones, or edit what you wrote to make those things easier. Make them so easy, that they seem itty bitty, and tiny. Which leads me to my next life hack: Tiny Habits.
B.J. Fogg, PhD is the creator of Tiny Habits. Through his study of habits and behavioral psychology, he realized some pretty big things in some pretty small packages about the human psyche and how we respond and adapt to habits.
Basically, Doc B.J. says the following rules apply to habit formation:
- Simplicity is more important than motivation (aka – the simpler, the better): Our motivation can be unreliable, but when things are easy – they’re easy peasy. (I’m translating, a bit).
- Emotions create habits: We’ll talk more about this next week, but essentially, if you feel a positive emotion while doing something, you’re probably going to want to do that thing more. Makes sense, right?
- Hack more behaviors: When a habit is tiny and you celebrate it right away, you’re more likely to continue to do it.
- Look for triggers: Put this new behavior (habit) after an existing routine. For example, if you want to start flossing everyday, find a trigger and an anchor. A trigger is something that will remind you to do the thing, and an anchor is something that you’ll attach it to. So you might think, “hm, I brush my teeth every morning.” Great! That am routine might be your trigger, and brushing your teeth might be your anchor. Boom. Now you’re flossing. Because the habit of flossing flows easily from this already in place routine.
Your homework this week: Write down your goals and start brainstorming some tiny, or simple habits that you can start practicing. Feel free to comment with them down below!