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Last Updated on August 26, 2021

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

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11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about changing habits in a way that doesn’t help you: You need to push yourself more; you can’t be lazy; you need to wake up at 5 am; you just need more motivation.

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or to wake up at 5 am. In reality, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation, and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to share. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say:

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing habits are both simple and easy, but this doesn’t mean they won’t make a difference.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Why Do We Form Habits?

We ask a lot of our brains. During the day, they’re busy with many complex tasks. Habits evolved as a way to help them work more efficiently.

Scientists have identified a phenomenon called ‘decision fatigue’. In a nutshell, every decision our brain makes tires it out a bit more. So we end up making worse decisions as the day wears on and our brains get depleted.

Habits let your brain make fewer decisions during a day. When we’re carrying out an automatic behavior — brushing our teeth, for example — we don’t need that much brain power. Our brains are then free to divert that valuable attention elsewhere — to the more important stuff.

What’s your morning routine? Most people make coffee or take a shower without much thought. Imagine how exhausted you’d be if you had to concentrate intently on each task.

Our brains tap out when they can. That allows them to show up, fresh and focused, when we need them to.

How Does Habit Formation Work?

Knowing how this works is key to changing habits. When we form habits, we go through a ‘habit loop’: cue, response, reward. (More on this later.)

Something takes effort at first. But we repeat it until it become almost automatic. One study found that it took repeating a habit for an average of 66 days before it stuck.[1]

And usually, it starts with a cue. We associate an action with a trigger until that action becomes ingrained in us. When reinforced positively, the action rewards us with a dopamine response, an incentive to our brains to do it again.

This all happens in the basal ganglia in our brains. Thanks to that, we store habits for future use in order to survive.

What is The Habit Loop?

The habit loop is the blueprint your brain follows to form (or break) habits. It’s a chain of 3 stages: cue, response, rewards. Let’s learn a bit more about them and how they can help with changing habits:

1. Cue

Something triggers you to behave in a certain way. It could be a rush of anxiety, which triggers you to stress eat. Or the smell of fresh bread which makes your mouth water. This trigger tells your brain to anticipate a reward. And it’s specific to you. Not everyone will have the same reaction to a cue.

2. Response

You behave in response to this impulse. This action is almost automatic. Your brain’s decision-making mechanism switches off. Maybe you start scrolling through social media. Whatever it is, you do it almost mindlessly.

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3. Reward

As a result of your action, you get a reward. For example, your brain releases dopamine when you make an online purchase. Our craving is satisfied, even if only in the short-term. This reward tells our brain to remember this as a useful action and do it again.

You have to go through all 3 of these stages to change a habit. Without one, the whole thing collapses.

Now that you know how habits are formed, you can hack your behavior to reach your goals. Here are some tips on how to form good habits:

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. It’s better to start small with your good habits and focus on one habit at a time.

If you want to read more, don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

If you want to become a writer, don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

If you want to eat less ice cream, don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one scoop less of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big generally leads to failure simply because it’s not sustainable.

When you start small, think of what will help you keep one foot in your comfort zone. If you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen, which means continuous improvement[2]. They use this notion in healthy habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

But the problem with this approach is the end line—where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided on. Don’t continuously push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number, and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are Inevitable

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this when changing habits, so it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

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For example, if I read 20 pages of a book a day, and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet, to a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand. It takes less than 20 seconds a day but will create momentum for the days and weeks ahead.

6. All Days Make a Difference

A single gym session won’t make you fit, but after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel great.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites Paradox)[3] is that no single gym session made you fit; they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on changing habits, one day at a time.

7. Habits Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. Some of them do, like showering a certain way or brushing your teeth.

But many habits don’t become automatic; they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle. It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about—you simply do it.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones that will bring you to the next step.

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Don’t be afraid of changing habits when you sense that they won’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started my reading habit, I focused on reading business and tactic books. Two years into it, I switched to philosophy books, which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree, not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

It sounds paradoxical, but here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something—”I want to become a healthy individual”—and then you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits—”I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process because you are working on the process of becoming healthy, and it’s always in the making.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience the yo-yo effect[4] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal, but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

The last two sections are pure Pavlovian—you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior when changing habits. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

I told you in point 3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for. You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[5]

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

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The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphins—a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards, and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Examples of Habits And How to Fix Them

Bad habits come —​​ and stick — before you know it. It’s unfortunate that some people are ashamed of their bad habits and see themselves as ‘weak’.

But you don’t need willpower to kick a bad habit. What you really need is to be more aware of the 3 stages of habit formation.

Here are some common examples of bad habits:

  • Watching too much TV
  • Overeating on unhealthy food like chocolate
  • Smoking
  • Ordering fast food instead of cooking
  • ‘Doom-scrolling’ on social media

And some ways you could fix them:

1. Deal With Your Trigger

Work out the cue that is causing your bad habit. Then deal with that cue in a healthier way. For many people, stress is a cue to waste hours in front of the TV. Learn how to identify when you’re feeling stressed. Then find healthier ways to destress, like meditation or exercise, and you can kill the trigger before you even find the remote.

2. Change Your Environment

James Clear suggests making the cue “invisible, unattractive, difficult and unsatisfying”.[6] For example, put that chocolate you can’t stop eating in the top shelf, in a container, behind the flour. You’ll likely think twice before reaching for it.

Turns out the best time to break a habit is when your environment changes. People who go on holiday or have a baby tend to totally change their habits. The cues no longer exist or don’t have the same power over you. So consider making a habit change — like switching out your chocolate for some fruit — when your environment also changes.

3. Use Mindfulness

Try out a mindfulness technique to get rid of bad habits. In a study, smokers trying to quit were given a mindfulness practice.[7] They were taught to engage with their senses deeply as they smoked. Some gave up overnight, because they became more disgusted with the act of smoking when it became more conscious.

You can apply that to your own habits too. If you want to stop eating fast food, pay closer attention to what it’s like to eat it. Eat undistracted and let yourself fully experience the salt, the greasiness, and the heavy feeling when you’re done. You might be less inclined to order out next time.

4. Have a Watertight Community

Find strength in community. What makes Alcoholics Anonymous so successful is its reliance on community. If you’re trying to quit social media, team up with somebody who wants the same thing. You’ll get support and motivation from each other.

And make sure nobody is enabling your bad habit. If your significant other gets caught in a social media loop after dinner, move to another room.

The Bottom Line

When you work on changing habits, it matters not only to you but to the people around you. That’s the great power of habit.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

More About Changing Habits

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Healthline: How Long Does It Really Take To Form a Habit?
[2] Investopedia: Kaizen
[3] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[4] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[5] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[6] James Clear: Three Step Habit Change
[7] PMC: Mindfulness Training for smoking cessation

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Bruno Boksic

An expert in habit building

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Last Updated on September 9, 2021

10 Best Productivity Planners To Get More Done in 2021

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10 Best Productivity Planners To Get More Done in 2021

Productivity planners and journals are tools of a trade. There’s an art to productivity. Just like art is very personal to the artist, productivity is very personal to the person. What works for you may not work for me. This is an important distinction if you really want get more done in less time.

Too many of us dabble in productivity hacks only to move on to the next tool or trend when it didn’t workout for us, missing the lesson of what worked and didn’t work about that tool or trend.

We put the tool on a pedestal and miss the art. It’s worshipping the paint brush rather than the process and act of painting. We miss the art of our own productivity when the tool overshadows the treasure.

As an artist, you have many brushes to choose from. You’re looking for a brush that feels best in your hand. You want a brush that doesn’t distract you from your art but partners with you to create the many things you see in your mind to create. Finding a brush like this may take some experimenting, but when you understand that the role of the brush is to bring life to your vision, it’s easier to find the right brush.

Planners are the same way. You want a productivity journal that supports you in the creation of your vision, not one that bogs you down or steals your energy.

Let’s dive into the 10 best productivity planners and journals to help you get more done in less time.

1. The One Thing Planner

The NY Times best selling book, The One Thing, just released their new planner. If you loved this book, you’ll love this planner.

As the founder of the world’s largest real estate company Keller Williams Realty, Gary Keller, has mastered the art of focus. The One Thing planner has its roots in industry changing productivity. If you’re out to put a dent in the universe, this may be the planner for you.

Get the planner here!

2. The Full Life Planner

The Full Life Planner is Lifehacks’ ultimate planning system to get results across all your core life aspects including work, health and relationships. This smart planner is 15 years of Lifehack’s best practices and proven success formulas by top performers.

With the Full Life Planner, you can align your actions to long term milestones every day, week, and month consistently. This will help you to get more done and achieve your goals.

Get the planner here!

3. The Freedom Journal

Creator of one of the most prolific podcasts ever, Entrepreneur on Fire, John Lee Dumas released his productivity journal in 2016. This hard-cover journal focuses on accomplishing SMART goals in 100 days.

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From their site:

“The Freedom Journal is an accountability partner that won’t let you fail. John Lee Dumas has interviewed over 2000 successful Entrepreneurs and has created a unique step-by-step process that will guide you in SETTING and ACCOMPLISHING your #1 goal in 100 days.”

Get the planner here!

4. Full Focus Planner

Michael Hyatt, author of Platform and host of the podcast “This is Your Life”, also has his own planner called the Full Focus Planner.

From the site:

“Built for a 90-day achievement cycle, the Full Focus Planner® gives you a quarter of a year’s content so you aren’t overwhelmed by planning (and tracking) 12 months at a time.”

This productivity planner includes a place for annual goals, a monthly calendar, quarterly planning, the ideal week, daily pages, a place for rituals, weekly preview and quarterly previews. It also comes with a Quickstart lessons to help you master the use of the planner.

Get the planner here!

5. Passion Planner

They call themselves the #pashfam and think of their planner as a “paper life coach”. Their formats include dated, academic and undated in hardbound journals with assorted colors. With over 600,000 users they have a track record for effective planners.

From the site:

“An appointment calendar, goal setting guide, journal, sketchbook, gratitude log & personal and work to-do lists all in one notebook.”

They have a get-one give-one program. For every Passion Planner that is bought they will donate one to a student or someone in need.

They also provide free PDF downloads of their planners. This is a great way to test drive if their planner is right for you.

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Get the planner here!

6. Desire Map Planners

If you’re looking for a more spiritually oriented planner, Danielle LaPorte, author of The Desire Map, created the Desire Map Planners. With Daily planners, Weekly planners and Undated planners you can find the right fit for you.

Behind this planner is the Desire Map Planner Program including 3 workbooks that not only support you in using the planners but guide you in your thought process about your life and intentions you’re using the planner to help you fulfill.

Get the planner here!

7. Franklin Covey Planners

The grandfather of all planners, Franklin Covey, has the most options when it comes to layouts, binders, and accessories. With over 30 years in the productivity planner business, they not only provide a ton of planner layouts, they also have been teaching productivity and planning from the beginning.

From the site:

“Achieve what matters most with innovative, high quality planners and binders tailored to your personal style. Our paper planning system guides you to identify values, create successful habits, and track and achieve your goals.”

Get the planner here!

8. Productivity Planner

From the makers of the best selling journal backed by Tim Ferriss, “The Five Minute Journal”, comes the Productivity Planner.

Combining the Ivy Lee method which made Charles Schwab millions with the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused in the moment, the Productivity Planner is both intelligent and effective.

It allows for six months of planning, 5-day daily pages, weekly planning and weekly review, a prioritized task list, Pomodoro time tracking, and extra space for notes.

From the site:

“Do you often find yourself busy, while more important tasks get procrastinated on? The Productivity Planner helps you prioritize and accomplish the vital few tasks that make your day satisfying. Quality over quantity. Combined with the Pomodoro Technique to help you avoid distractions, the Productivity Planner assists you to get better work done in less time.”

Get the planner here!

9. Self Journal

Endorsed by Daymond John of Shark Tank, the Self Journal takes a 13 week approach and combines Monthly, Weekly and Daily planning to help you stay focused on the things that really matter.

Self Journal includes additional tools to help you produce with their Weekly Action Pad, Project Action Pad, the Sidekick pocket journal to capture your ideas on the go and their SmartMarks bookmarks that act as a notepad while you’re reading.

Get the planner here!

10. Google Calendar

You may already use Google Calendar for appointments, but with a couple tweaks you can use it as a productivity planner.

Productivity assumes we have time to do the work we intend to do. So blocking time on your Google Calendar and designating it as “busy” will prevent others from filling up those spaces on your calendar. Actually using those blocks of time as you intended is up to you.

If you use a booking tool like Schedule Once or Calendly, you can integrate it with your Google Calendar. For maximum productivity and rhythm, I recommend creating a consistent “available” block of time each day for these kinds of appointments.

Google Calendar is free, web based and to the point. If you’re a bottom line person and easily hold your priorities in your head, this may be a good solution for you.

Get the planner here!

Bonus Advice: Integrate the 4 Building Blocks of Productivity

Just as important to productivity planners as the tool are the principles that we create inside of. There are 4 building blocks of productivity, that when embraced, accelerate your energy and results.

The four building blocks of productivity are desire, strategy, focus and rhythm. When you get these right, having a productivity planner or journal provides the structure to keep you on track.

Block #1: Desire

Somehow in the pursuit of all our goals, we accumulate ideas and To-Do’s we’re not actually passionate about and don’t really want to pursue. They sneak their way in and steal our focus from the things that really matter.

Underneath powerful productivity is desire. Not many little desires, but the overarching mother of desires. The desire you feel in your gut, the desire that comes from your soul, not your logic, is what you need to tap into if you want to level up your productivity.

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A productivity planner is just a distraction if you’re not clear on what it’s all for. With desire, however, your productivity planner provides the guide rails to accomplish your intentions.

Block #2: Strategy

Once you’re clear on your overarching desire, you need to organize your steps to get there. Let’s call this “strategy”. Strategy is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. You must first turn over all the pieces to see patterns, colors, connections and find borders.

In business and life, we often start trying to put our “puzzle” together without turning over all the pieces. We put many items on our To-Do lists and clog our planners with things that aren’t important to the bigger picture of our puzzle.

Strategy is about taking the time to brain dump all the things in your head related to your goal and then looking for patterns and priorities. As you turn over these puzzle pieces, you’ll begin to see the more important tasks that take care of the less important tasks or make the less important tasks irrelevant.

In the best selling book, The One Thing, the focusing question they teach is:

“What’s the One thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else is easier or unnecessary?”

This is the heart of strategy and organizing what hits your planner and what doesn’t.

Block #3: Focus

With your priorities identified, now you can focus on the One Thing that makes everything else easier or unnecessary. This is where your productivity planners and journals help you hold the line.

Because you’ve already turned over the puzzle pieces, you aren’t distracted by new shiny objects. If new ideas come along, and they will, you will better see how and where they fit in the big picture of your desire and strategy, allowing you to go back and focus on your One Thing.

Block #4: Rhythm

The final building block of productivity is rhythm. There is a rhythm in life and work that works best for you. When you find this rhythm, time stands still, productivity is easy and your experience of work is joyful.

Some call this flow. As you hone your self-awareness about your ideal rhythm you will find yourself riding flow more often and owning your productivity.

Without these four building blocks of productivity, you’re like a painter with a paintbrush and no idea how to use it to create what’s in your heart to create. But harness these four building blocks and find yourself getting more done in less time.

The Bottom Line

Your life is your art. Everyday you have a chance to create something amazing. By understanding and using the four building blocks of productivity, you will set yourself up for success no matter which planner, or “paintbrush”, you choose to use.

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As you experiment with different planners you will narrow which one is best for you and accelerate your path to putting a dent in the universe.

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Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

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