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Last Updated on December 7, 2020

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

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.

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[1]. 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.

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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.

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)[2] 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[3] 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.

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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.[4]

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.

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.

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

Reference

[1] Investopedia: Kaizen
[2] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[3] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[4] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit

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Bruno Boksic

An expert in habit building

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Last Updated on March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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