Want to Change? Start by Daily Habits
An Habit is a small enough action to be easily repeatable on a daily basis. Daily Habits are a simple yet powerful way to start changing our lifestyle. Each action is adding a vote for the lifestyle you want. We become what we do repeatably.
Step One: Evaluate Where You Are Now
Any change starts by defining where you want to go. If you want to start running, it matters to know how sedentary you actually are. If you want to start daily fasting, you want to know your current eating pattern.
Create a Weekly Journal: take a notebook and write down for a week your current state of daily habits related to what you are looking to change. For example, write your number of daily steps to help figure out how active or sedentary you are.
Evaluate your Habits: create a two-column Habit Scoreboard with positive and negative habits. A Negative Habit can act as an ephemeral stress relief or reward but you know that you will pay its cost later. Snacking while stuck in the traffic acts as a stress reliever but it may induce weight gain on the long term. A Positive Habit requires a short term effort but provides a delayed gratification. Going for a morning run, you will feel the cold wind instantly and you won’t see any instant impact on your health, the effects and benefits of running will start to manifest by the eighth week of regular practice.
By reviewing your Weekly Journal of Habits and Scoreboard, you can visualise how much change you need to get where you want to go.
Step Two: Define What You Want to Change
Make Four Lists: that includes the existing habits that you want to keep, stop or alter as well as new ones to introduce in your day to day life.
- List 1: Habits that you want to spend MORE Time and Energy on.
- List 2: Habits that you want to spend LESS Time and Energy on.
- List 3: New Habits to Introduce.
- List 4: Unhelpful Habits to Phase out.
Step Three: Prioritise and Replace
Prioritise the Helpful and Meaningful Habits, the ones aligned with your values and who you want to become. They are votes for a better you. Schedule them at a right time in your day.
Replace Unaligned and Unhelpful Habits, it’s hard to simply remove a negative habit so try to switch it with a positive one. If you want to avoid scrolling on your social media feed at night, find a good book to read instead. When you feel stressed out, instead of snacking go for a walk outside.
Step Four: Fine Tune your Environment
You want to make Positive Habits Effortless. I attribute the consistency over years of my morning running practice to my environment more than any will power. I always prioritised living or staying at a place from which I can start my run straight from the door. Remove any friction or obstacle on your way to start, make it easy and as convenient as possible to perform your new habit.
Ruthlessly alter your environment to remove any temptation and add obstacles to make your Negative Habits more difficult to execute than ever. If you’re looking to eat healthier, start by cleaning out your cupboards and pantry. Have fruits available at all time instead. Install a temporary junk food tax that you commit to pay, each time to cross the line.
Step Five: Master the Startline!
If you want to change your day, start by changing your morning. Focus on how to make starting your new habit easy and playful. I take a sunrise picture before my morning run, as I really like this special moment of the day. Coming back from injury or a training break, I don’t define a specific time for my first trainings but instead I make the deal with myself to go out first thing in the morning. I make sure simply to start my run. I mark down any time I went for a run in my agenda, regardless of the duration of my run. I try my best to avoid missing two days in a row to facilitate anchoring this habit. I stay flexible, try to diversify my running routes and make sure to add rest days into my week. In a matter of few weeks, I will be running about an hour daily and I miss my run on rest days or when I can’t go out. Over time, being a runner is a second nature and I don’t have to think much about it. It’s now part of my identity. I wrote an article about why I tend to run most mornings.
How Long it Takes for an Habit to stick?
In my experience, there is not an average time like 21 days or 3 months for a new habit to stick and then to become part of you identity like a second nature. It is hard to predict when it happens, one day you just feel it. How long it takes varies from one habit to another and for one person to another. So be prepared, it takes patience and a good amount of iterations for a meaningful habit to anchor deeply in your daily life. Stay accountable and make sure that your actions are aligned with your values, one day hopefully they will become part of who you are and you won’t have to be vigilant anymore. Our Daily Habits are secretly shaping who we are. Be mindful about which ones you let in your lifestyle.