5 steps that you can take today which will help you to start new, healthy habits this year

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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

-Stephen King

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!)

Rocks, pebbles and sand…the key to knowing what is important in your life

Reading Time: 7 minutes

(You may have read my earlier post "Do you know your WHY?" that I had written recently on finding our true purpose in life. I am writing a series of 6 weekly posts on various interrelated topics where the goal is to infuse our life with purpose, clarity and calm. As you go through these posts I suggest that you keep a journal handy so that you can reflect upon and write down answers to the questions that I ask along the way. And of course, I would simply love it if you would share with your experience of going on this journey of self-exploration with me)

In this SECOND post, I am focussing on the fact that we need to always be clear on what is truly IMPORTANT to us not only in terms of work but in life as a whole. Sometimes we forget that our life is an indivisible whole and that just like a spider's web when we pull at one end there is bound to be an impact at the other end. We may not realise that each time we choose to do or NOT do something, we have already made a decision and that this decision has an impact on our lives. We may also not realise that we are making CHOICES all the time- what food to eat, what clothes to wear, whether to let go of anger or a grudge, forgive, become grateful/remain ungrateful and even how we respond to unfavourable circumstances. The problem for most of us is not whether we have a choice or not, the issue is that we may not be clear on what we want.

Why is it that some people...

achieve what they set out to do where many others give up on their hopes and dreams?

seem to have it "ALL" while so many others are just busy "keeping it all together"?

know exactly how to maintain their physical, emotional and spiritual health as well as the health of their family, relationships while others "let go"?

What is it that makes them different?

The difference is that they know what they want from life as much as they know what they do not want. 

This is quite evident in observing those people who have achieved what they set out to do with passion and enthusiasm. This clarity allows them to take decisions on a daily basis from a place that is aligned to their values and goals. These decisions have a snowballing effect that ultimately over time culminates into the life they wanted to create for themselves in the first place. This is not to say that things will not and do not go wrong in their lives, it is just that these people have the ability to bounce back much earlier from their setbacks than do most others.

The thing is, if we are not clear about what we want, how can we make the right choices?

In my own life, as I have become clearer and clearer on what I want and why it has become much easier to make decisions that are leading to a well-balanced and harmonious life. It has become easier to say "NO" to the opportunities/activities and people when I need to that are not aligned with my values AND at the same time focus on what is important to me.

Once again, I come back to a question I had asked you in my earlier post

"What do I want from life?"

(Reflect upon this and revisit it from time to time, it may give you a sense of direction)

As someone wise had said, "The way you do one thing is the way you do everything"

Even if we are clear on what we want from life, due to our modern way of living we are being constantly distracted and sidetracked from what we set out to do. While growing up each of one of us had certain dreams that we aspired to fulfil when we were older. Yes, some of these may have been hopelessly idealistic and impractical. Also true that circumstances in life can AND do get in the way at times. Yet it is also true that many people who inspire us by doing amazing and previously unthinkable and/or unachievable work did so because they did not let impossible stand in their way. They were brave enough to stick their neck out and stand apart from the crowd as they reached for their goals. Can you find ways to do the same?

Take some time out to ponder and reflect upon the questions below-

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

Would you do anything differently than what you are doing now?

What is the ONE thing that you would change and the FIRST step you would take towards it?

(Do take the time and write down the answers to these questions- the answers may surprise you and bring you some clarity that you seek)

We are actually not at all different when we are born but somewhere along the way our conditioning (mostly subconscious) takes over and keeps us from doing the best that we can to become the "best version of ourselves" (courtesy Matthey Kelly in his book "The rhythm of life"). Fear takes over and shackles us whether we ever realise it or not. But mostly, we forget that we have the power to CHOOSE.

And as a result, as we grow older we lose the gift of knowing what needs to be done and of making healthy decisions. We start worrying about what to feed our child, which 'diet' to follow, how to parent, which exercise regime to follow and so on and so forth....you get the idea! We start relying on "experts" to tell us what to do. We lose sight of what is important to us and feel disoriented or confused as we move from activity to another living on automatic pilot. It often takes a wake up call like a health or financial crisis to wake us up from our stupor and start making changes. However, if we know what we stand for and what we want it makes much easier to make decisions that are good for us.

Image result for urgency

This also translates into the activities that we do on a daily basis as well. Due to the frenetic pace of modern life, many of us are affected by an "urgency addiction". Rather than doing the things that matter to us and which will propel us towards our goals, we end up spending the majority of our time putting out mini fires that feed this addiction. That is not to say that we should not be focussing on those things that need to be tended to on an urgent basis.

The problem is that we fail to realise that many activities which are actually "important" to us gets overlooked and even ignored in this process. As we move from one "crisis" to another, we get so caught up in the "doing" that we never stop to reflect whether it really needs to be done in the first place.

How much more fulfilling life would be if we... 

did not wait for some kind of crisis or a wake-up call?

did not wait for our health to fail, our relationships to die or our children to grow up while we were too busy earning a living to start making changes and focussing on doing what really mattered most?

took out the time to understand what is truly IMPORTANT for us and then worked towards incorporating it in our lives?

silhouette of man holding two childrens on shore during daytime

Take out the time and write down YOUR answers to the questions

What’s important to you or what matters to you most?

Why is it important to you?

Lastly, I want to share with you a beautiful exercise that I came across in the book (I highly recommend this book if you would like to work on knowing what is important in your life and how to schedule your priorities rather than prioritise your schedule with endless to-do lists etc) "First things first" by Stephen Covey. You can buy the book HERE.

The story goes like this....

At a seminar, an instructor was teaching time management to a group of students and asked them to participate in a quiz. He pulled out an extremely large jar and set it on a table. He took out some fist sized rocks and asked " How many of these rocks do you think will fit into this jar?"

Once the students had made their guess, he placed them, one at a time, into the jar until the jar was full.

Then he asked, “Is this jar full?”

Everyone said, “Yes.”

“Really?” he asked. “Let’s see.” He took out some gravel and dumped them in. He shook the jar, causing the pieces to fall into the spaces between the big rocks. He asked the students again, “Is the jar full?”

His class was catching on. “Probably not,” one of them answered.

“Good!” he replied. He then brought out a bucket of sand. He dumped the sand in and it went into all the spaces between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the class, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted.

“Excellent!” he replied. Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and poured it in until the jar was filled to the brim.

He then asked, “What is the point of all this?”

One student said, “You can always fit more things into your life if you really work at it.”

The instructor replied, “That’s true, but that's not the point.”

The point is if you hadn't put the big rocks in first…… would you ever have gotten any of them in?

What do YOU think your BIG ROCKS are? I would love to hear from you!

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing ∼ Stephen Covey

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