A warm welcome to 2020! I hope you are as excited as I am about the new year.
In this new year, we get yet another chance to
be curious and explore all that life has to offer us
make a new beginning
make things right
celebrate our achievements
learn from our mistakes
learn to let go of what no longer serves us
Opportunities or challenges?
There will be many happy and enjoyable moments this year but at the same time, there will also be many others which are difficult and challenging. Many of these difficult moments will actually be opportunities masquerading as challenges. The point is not “if and when” these will show up but whether you and I will be well prepared to greet these situations with the right frame of mind. Either way you may be all set to start this year on the right note and incorporate some healthy habits in your life that are long lasting.
In this article and the next, I discuss some steps that you can take to create healthy habits, motivate yourself right from the beginning and BECOME the person you need to be in order to sustain those changes in your life. There are many books and articles on these and other related topics and I have been greatly inspired by them. I have tried my best to encapsulate the core essence of these amazing resources in these blog posts as well as draw from my own experience as well as that of my clients in my health coaching practice.
Habits and outcomes- the connection
In fact, you may already be working on or at the very least be thinking about some kind of goals, resolutions, healthy habits that you would like to build upon in your life. While I am not an expert on these topics, as a coach I guide my coaching clients to incorporate and sustain healthy habits as they work on their health and wellness goals. The main objective to bring about some form of transformation in the areas of their life that they are struggling with. As my clients start moving towards their goals, they soon realise that it is indeed our habits which determine the outcomes in our life both good AND bad.
As Aristotle had said
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit"
In my last post, I had touched upon some key reasons why many of us never end up taking any action in spite of having the best of intentions. In this post, I go one step further and give you some action steps to help you remove as much friction as possible and make it easy for you to make changes that you need to in your life.
Let go of the controls
Before we can get started however, there is something that we all need to come to terms with. The reality is that we have much less control over the outcomes of the efforts that we put in than we think we do. In other words, inspite of putting in our best efforts we may not get the results that we want and some times, things can also go wrong. Ignoring this reality and trying to control ALL the outcomes all the time can be both tiring AND frustrating.
Yet, this is exactly how we approach most of our goals- with an extremely tight and clenched fist. Rather than focus on our efforts and our response to a situation we end up focusing on things beyond our control. However, the truth is, some times it is only when we let go of the controls that we actually start seeing the results that we want in our life.
There is a lovely story that illustrates this point in a book that I read recently called “The Inside Out Revolution” by Michael Neill. Robert C. Kausen, a teacher and consultant had shared this story with the author many years ago.
The story goes like this....
“He was telling me about a friend of his from high school who was training for his pilot's license.
During his first solo flight, he lost control of his Piper Cub “trainer plane” high above the ground. The more he tried to bring the plane back under his control, the more wildly it spun, and his conversation with the tower went something like this:
Pilot: “Mayday! Mayday! I've lost control of the plane—please advise!”
Tower: “Take your hands and feet off the controls—I repeat, take your hands and feet off the controls!”
Imagine yourself for a moment as that young pilot. You are spinning wildly out of control, clearly heading for a devastating crash, and the person who’s supposed to be looking out for your safety and well-being is telling you to let go of the controls of the plane.
Is he insane? Does he have some kind of a personal vendetta against you that you don't know about?
Pilot: “Negative, Tower—repeat, I have lost control of the plane! I'm trying everything I know to do to bring it back under control but I can't do it! Please, just tell me what to do!”
Tower: “This is a matter of life and death—Take your hands and feet off the controls—do it NOW!”
What the young pilot didn’t know (and the air traffic controller clearly did) is that trainer planes have a self-righting mechanism built into them. When you let go of the controls, the plane levels itself out. Once the plane is back on an even keel, the pilot can take over again and steer the plane back to safety—which is exactly what happened in the case of Robert’s young friend.
So how does this apply to us?”
As Martin Luther King Jr had said
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step”.
You will soon realise that taking the first step and building momentum is key to getting started. No matter how small that step is, it is important to get going in the right direction. It is very common for many of us to simply constantly attain the knowledge required but fail to take any action whatsoever. And as time goes by, they lose confidence and fail to act upon the opportunities that come their way.
Here are a few action steps for you to get started
1. Take an inventory of your current habit system
You already have a system in place which may or may not be working for you. If your system is designed to produce negative, self limiting beliefs and self defeating patterns in your life, you need to become aware of it. It is time to take a good hard look at where you are in your life right now. As the habits expert James Clear says “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems”.
This means that you need to ask yourself these questions
Which of your current habits is standing in your way of reaching your goals?
Which new, healthy habits will allow you to make the changes you would like to see?
2. Start small
Research shows that it is beneficial and effective to start small if we want to be successful at long term behaviour changes. It is indeed necessary to start with small steps which will require as less willpower as possible and is relatively easy and painless for you. Many of us are under the misconception that people who are able to achieve their goals and sustain healthy habits have much more willpower than they have. But this could not be further from the truth. It is not willpower but the small, incremental changes that we make every single day leading to small regular improvements counts in the long run.
It is the same for you- whether you would like to lose weight, build a new business, write a book or anything else for that matter. Indeed, small changes made over long periods of time (think 2, 5, 10 or 20 years) have a compounding effect and have a huge impact and the same is equally true for bad habits.
So as you read this, ask yourself, What is that one small step that you will take today, tomorrow and every single day after that will help you move towards a goal that you have set for yourself?
Some examples of this are “working out 3 times a week for 30 min”, “going for a walk even if for 15 minutes every day”, “having healthy meals every day”
3. Build new habits by stacking them on habits that you already have
It is much easier for us to stick to new habits when we connect them to a habit that we already have. This idea is called habit stacking. As human beings, we all decide what to do next based on what we did just finished doing. Habit stacking simply takes allows you to take advantage of this aspect of human behaviour.
In real life it could look like this. You could incorporate a routine of stillness or meditation in the morning by saying “ I am going to sit down for 10 min in silence every day after I have finished brushing my teeth”. By linking it to a current habit that is already well engrained in your life, you make it easier to incorporate and sustain new habit.
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work
4. Design your habits for success
The quote from Stephen King is one of my favourites. It means that we do NOT leave it to chance to see if we can stick to a new habit. On the contrary, we design our environment to set us up for success by leaving obvious visual cues and drawing our attention to certain habits.
In my own life, I incorporated a new habit of oil pulling (the process of cleansing your mouth with cold pressed coconut oil for dental health and hygiene) by simply keeping a small bottle of coconut oil right next to my toothbrush and toothpaste in the bathroom. By having visual cues like this in your surroundings you can dramatically increase the chances of sustaining a new habit. Indeed, many people I know leave their workout clothes and shoes right next to their bed so that they can see them when they get up in the morning.
Ask yourself this question- What is a visual cue that you can use as a trigger to remind you of new habit that you would like to sustain in your life?
5. “Celebrate the small wins”
And last but not the least, ensure that you take out time to celebrate the progress that you are making on a regular basis. We are often so focused on our goals and the end result that we forget to take the time to celebrate what we have achieved irrespective of how big or small it may be. Many of the changes that we are seeking will take time and it is important to find some way to measure and celebrate our progress to keep us going.
One easy way of doing this is to get an empty glass jar and deposit a single bean (or any other small item like a pebble, dried peas etc) every time you take an action and/or complete a task you had set out to do to. This makes your progress visual and gives you the impetus to keep you going. Indeed, I use a variation of this in my coaching practice by asking my clients before each and every session this question
“What are you celebrating this week?”
In the end, the objective of setting goals and working on healthy habits is NOT to change ourselves or "fix" ourselves. It is simply to remove the obstacles that stand in our way of reaching our true potential and fulfil our dreams. You will find that as you change the way (or the system) you move towards your goals and not just the goals themselves, you start seeing results that are long lasting and meaningful.
(My next post will cover this aspect in more details; watch out for it next week!)