Why do habits rule our lives?
I never realised, but habits dictate our lives.
Think about it, how often are you doing things without having to consciously think about it? You just know how to brush your teeth, wash your face and put toast in the toaster.
Then apply this out further. Just as you learnt how to make toast, at some point you somehow learnt to eat when you feel unhappy, react angrily to certain actions or others or to shut down in a stressful situation.
All of our actions and behaviours stem from habits we have developed over the years. When I feel stressed, my instinct is still to reach for food, even though I now know this is far from the best option for me.
So I LOVE the work of Gretchen Rubin, who worked out how to make her life happier and wrote a book about it. Then she realised that her life was formed out of a series of habits, and wrote two books on that.
I've studied these books and have set out below:
How to work out what habit type you are
The keys to implementing successful habits
How to START a new habit
How to work out what habit type you are
According to Gretchen, there are "Four Tendencies":
It’s pretty easy to figure out which one you are from the descriptions below, but you can always do her test here to make sure.
wake up in the morning thinking “what is on the schedule for today?”
hold themselves accountable to both external and internal rules and expectations without questioning
can be relied on to start, follow through and inform you when they have completed a task
have to understand and believe in the reason or principle behind a rule or expectation
wake up in the morning thinking "What do I need to do today?"
if they consider a deadline set for Monday is unnecessary, they'll set their own deadline for Wednesday instead. They probably won’t tell you either
find it easier to follow their own expectations, because these make sense to them (even though they may seem crazy to others!)
tend to have a secondary preference to uphold or rebel
are essentially (and will often confess to being) people pleasers
wake up in the morning thinking "what is expected of me today?"
If an expectation has come from another person or an external source, they will hold themselves accountable to it
meet deadlines imposed by others, but struggle to meet those set by themselves (often because they’re so nakered from pleasing everyone else)
need accountability to follow through
rebels do not like rules. In fact, set a rule and they'll likely try and do the opposite
wake up in the morning thinking "what would I like to do today?".
struggle to follow even their own rules, and prefer to make decisions day by day
may choose every day to do something, but won't confess to it being an “everyday” habit
are why having children is hard!
How to form unbreakable habits
What is this: measuring behaviour using certain specific measurements. For example, the number of steps you take in a day through a Fit bit, or keeping a food diary. I measure things of value to me every day and give myself points (gold stars for naptime, yes please!).
How to use it effectively: be specific about what you are measuring, to give you a reality check against what you think you're doing and what you're actually doing. For example, realising that when you count up the exact calories for your evening meal, you're actually consuming 200-300 calories more than you thought.
Habit types: especially good for upholders and obligors, but useful for all types.
What is this: holding yourself accountable to an external source, which is most effective if it is linked to other people. This could be through measuring devices, coaches, trainers or friends.
How to use it effectively: make sure the person is actually going to hold you accountable! Don't choose a friend that you know will tempt you to eat the ice cream or skip a gym session. Get a professional involved for much faster and more effective results.
Habit types: essential for obligors, good for upholders, useful for questionners but may be of limited effect for rebels (but hey, they’ll rebel against anything!).
What is this: setting up certain core habits that you allow you to perform your best. Namely sleep, exercise, food and a clean environment. Once you have these in balance, they'll set you up to have the time, energy and willpower to follow through on other habits.
How to use it effectively: start with small steps and build these up over time - try to go to bed ten minutes earlier, eat one less "naughty" snack a week, then build up or cut down gradually. This is a much more sustainable approach.
Good for: all habit types, you just need to frame it in a way that works for your habit type.
What is this: scheduling specific time slots for implementing new habits, which includes FUN stuff as well. Literally, I schedule nap/meditation time mid afternoon when I know I have a busy day as I KNOW I'll need it. Two friends in Dubai schedule their meals for the week on blackboard in their kitchen (#couplegoals). It means you spend less time debating what to do when and can do more.
How to use it effectively: use a form of schedule that you'll actually use and stick to - be it an old skool diary, your work calendar or one of hundreds of apps. Schedule things with other people to combine this with accountability for maximum results.
Good for: especially good for upholders and obligors, works well if questioners believe in the logic, provides a framework for rebels.
How to start a new habit
I believe the main reason people go wrong is by trying to go hell for leather with a new habit and burning out.
We’ve all done the equivalent of a pre-Ibiza bikini (/budgy smuggler) diet of starvation only to crash and consume every McFlurry in sight as soon as we get home (check).
The key for nearly everyone is to start SMALL. Seems counter-intuitive, but tell me a time the former approach worked and I’ll buy you several McFlurrys (I won’t, because you know, dairy).
One of the most effective ways of implementing a new habit:
Tag it onto an existing habit
Listen to a podcast whilst driving to work
Do five press ups after you brush your teeth
Make it 30 seconds or less to start
Spend 30 seconds stretching when you get out of bed, then slowly build it up to 30 mins of yoga
Some things obviously take longer than 30 seconds, but start with the SHORTEST possible time and build up
Design the habit so it works for your habit type, incorporating the four principles above.
My Habit journey
I'm a questioner. I hated having to adhere to other people's deadlines, especially when I thought they weren't appropriate (such as the classic legal client who wanted something yesterday, then sits on it for two weeks!).
For me, a habit has to make sense. Now I set my own deadlines, I stick to them. Mainly because it means everything is done off the cuff at the eleventh hour, but hey, that’s how I work best :P
And now, it’s become clear to me that my frequent references to napping means I’m in need of some ZZZ. So I’ll tell you (accountability) I’m planning eight hours (monitoring) of sleep (scheduling, foundation).
*Leaves stage wearing golden halo for practicing what she preaches*.