5 Strategies for Forming Habits

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So much of our life is established by our habits.  Experts like Charles Duhigg believe that around 40-45% of every day is spent performing activities that we aren’t actively making decisions about – they are just habits.

Habits are powerful. 

Almost half your life is comprised of the habits that you train yourself to do without thinking. And these thoughtless actions set your life on a course.  It can be a course of health, prosperity, progress and fulfillment. Or it can be a course of laziness, setbacks, failures and disillusionment. And your course is charted by actions you take each day without even thinking.

Wow.

One of my personal goals for 2016 was to lose weight.  This puts alongside of over 100 million other Americans who set a similar goal this year.  Most people want to lose weight…but far less people actually put habits in place in their lives to accomplish their goals.  So far in 2016 I’ve lost 35 pounds and I thought I’d share with you some of my habit-formation strategies.

1. Monitoring

The strategy of monitoring is simply tracking your progress. I think often times we fail to improve in areas that are important in life because we don’t actually look at reality.  Instead, we adopt a story in our mind of how we think things are going and choose to believe the narrative we created.

Monitoring helps us stay grounded in the truth.

Jamie got me a new Fit Bit for Christmas that helps me monitor my everyday activity, heart rate, sleep, steps, etc.  I’ve got it synced up to my bathroom scale that I’ve used just about every day this year.  A lot of the battle of losing weight is simply choosing to take a look at reality every day on the scale.  Just tracking helps shape my thought life which ultimately affects my eating habits in a positive direction.

2. Scheduling

Habits live inside of your daily schedule.  And so part of adopting good habits or defeating bad ones is using your schedule to your advantage.

I made a couple key shifts in my schedule that have dramatically helped in this journey.

  • I started getting up a 5am to work out every day with the exception of Sundays.  This is an hour earlier than I was getting up in 2015 and the extra hour of morning time has made all the difference.
  • I stopped setting up lunch meetings out at restaurants.  Going out to eat is something that I enjoy but it has some serious costs.  It takes a lot more time, it costs a lot more money and I always eat way more calories at a restaurant.  So I adopted a new standard that I just eat at the office.  Every day I eat a salad like this.  If someone wants to meet for lunch, I just invite them to the office and give them one of my salads.

3. Pairing

Pairing is a strategy where you attach something you really enjoy to a habit that you are trying to adopt.  I’ve found that for me to consistently exercise, pairing is really important.  This year I’ve paired reading with exercising at home on my recumbent bike.  I know there are more intense workouts that could burn more calories. But I’ve found that biking for 45 minutes in the morning on a recumbent bike makes reading really comfortable.

I used to pair exercise with watching movies and shows on Netflix.  But I’ve found that reading great books is more enjoyable and edifies me spiritually and intellectually at the same time.  Adopting this habit has helped me read 16 books in the first 12 weeks of 2016.

4. Convenience

Using convenience is a big help when establishing a habit.  If you make something easy to do, you’re more likely to do it consistently.  I try to use this strategy a lot which is why I work out at home instead of a gym.

One thing I’ve done for convenience is eat the same breakfast every day.  If I take the choice out of it on a daily basis, then I won’t make a bad one.  So every weekend, Jamie loves me enough to make me a batch of crustless mini quiches which I eat all week long.  I simply microwave 2 of them for 1 minute and I’ve got a hot meal that I enjoy.  Easy.  Fast. Simple.  I can do that.

5. Go Public 

I’ve heard recently that going public with your goals makes you less likely to accomplish them.  Derek Severs did an interesting TED talk on this.  But I think it largely depends on your personality.  For me, I derive positive momentum knowing that I’ve told other people I’m going to do something.  I’ve always put a high value on my words being worth something.  Once I make a commitment, I’m very likely to keep it.

For me, going public with a habit is very helpful to keep me motivated to actually establish it.  The accountability is good for me.  It’s part of the reason for a post like this!  Just having the thought the people I respect will read this motivates me to continue pressing into succeed in my journey towards a healthier me.

There are lots more strategies that people use to form habits.  As a leader, if you can learn to master good habit development and bad habit destruction there’s just no stopping you.  For more help in this area, I recommend Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before.  Here’s to a year of better habits!