Andrea Bari Levine
How to Hack Our Habits (Part 3)
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
When it comes to behavior change, we're often focused on the outcome rather than the process. But transformation rarely occurs without consistent, deliberate effort, or in habit speak, a routine. In Part 3 of this series we'll discuss why it's important to focus on our actions not just our intentions, what makes a good routine and how to get started.
Put thoughts into action. Athletes all compete for the win, but what sets the winners apart is not their goals but their daily habits--their sustained effort towards success. For example, when Michael Jordan returned to to basketball from a short stint in baseball, he practiced meditation with mindfulness expert George Mumford to help remove distractions on the court and improve his game. Likewise, we have to do more than contemplate our goals, we have to take the right steps to reach them.
Focus on the process. We've often heard the phrase, "dream big," but focusing on the end result makes everything before it feel like a failure, which it's not. As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits explains, "habits often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold and unlock a new level of performance." This can be discouraging when you're doing the work but not seeing the results: when you're working out but your jeans fit the same, when you're meditating but your mind still wanders relentlessly or when you're hustling at work but there's still no sign of a promotion. Instead, try congratulating yourself of the effort you put in: each time you go to the gym, each time you listen to an entire guided meditation or each time you complete an assignment. Good things take time, but hard work can be celebrated every day.
Play to your strengths. Consistency is key in producing measurable change. That's why you should pick routines that are suitable, interesting and motivating to you. The more you enjoy the work, the easier it will be. To choose the right routine, consider the types of activities that come naturally to you or that you most enjoy. For example, are you more creative or bookish, an early bird or a night owl, more productive on a team or working alone. There is no glory in stepping so far outside your comfort zone that you inevitably run back to it. But if you slowly and effectively expand your safe space, then you can continue to create new opportunities for yourself. The Two-Minute Rule. Once you have an idea of where to begin, Clear recommends scaling the routine down to two minutes. Remember, we are trying to build habits not just choices, so the number of times you perform the desired behavior is just as important as what that behavior is. By trimming it down to a two minute activity, you can remove some of the obstacles that may get in your way. Changing just two minutes of your day may seem insignificant, but it is enough to break the inertia of your current routine, the one that is not working for you. As Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit notes:"Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win." So if the goal is to workout more often, begin by putting on workout clothes and tying your sneakers. Or if your goal is to go to cook meals at home, begin by looking up recipes online.
Now that we know why it's important, we can define our next steps and celebrate the small shifts that will lead to big success.