Updated: Aug 18, 2021
Research tells us that anywhere between 50% to 90% of our daily activities are habitual, which means that for most of us, we’re running on cruise control over half the time we’re awake.
The great news is that you get to choose your cruise control settings, and the right settings can significantly improve your performance, and quickly develop strong mental and physical health.
To dial up your cruise control settings use the simple yet effective habit creation and positive behaviour change techniques used by many of the world’s most extraordinary people.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Will Durant
The challenge that you and I have, is that if we believe the habit creation myths, and are using the wrong instruction manual, then driving positive change in our lives is just damn hard.
That’s why in the following sections, I’ll briefly define each myth, then give you a few simple actionable insights that you can start using today to drive positive change.
If you’re looking for the right ‘instruction manual’ check out Mindhabit's coaching solutions here: www.mindhabit.com.au/solutions
This myth-busting article is a condensed version of the full article published here, I recommend you read the full version (good things take time).
Now, if you only have 5 minutes - out of the 1,440 available to you today 😊 - then read on so we can quickly debunk these myths…
Myth 1: Motivation is critical
Motivation is complicated and unreliable, and while it is an important piece of the behaviour change puzzle, it is definitely not the best place to start.
You will achieve more if you start by creating new micro (call them tiny, atomic, nano, whatever you want, but make them really small) habits so that they're easy and rely less on motivation to finish.
Another great way to rely less on motivation is to find an everyday activity in your daily routine that you can link your new habit to. This is called a cue (otherwise known as an anchor, spark, prompt, or trigger) and is straight out of Charles Duhigg's* famous neurological loop that governs any habit. A habit loop is made up of 3 elements: 1] cue, 2] routine (behaviour / habit), and 3] reward.
My cue for drinking a glass of water every morning after waking up, is brushing my teeth. That’s a great micro habit I’ve been doing for about six months and it’s almost an unconscious decision. i.e., it’s become a regular and easy habit.
SNAPSHOT: Make your new habits ‘micro’, and link your first new micro habit to an everyday activity that you’re already doing (your cue), so that you can rely less on willpower to embed the new habit into your daily routine.
* The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, published 2012
Myth 2: Go big or go home
Micro is magnificent, however, most of us are challenged by an ego that tricks us into ‘going big’ too early.
The problem with the ego is that he’s a sneaky little devil. If you're a little like me, after a week of adding your new micro habits into your daily routine, your ego will start telling you that you should be doing more; “Come on buddy, is that all you’ve got?”. If you listen to him (I reckon your ego is more likely a 'he' than a 'she'), you will increase the quantity, difficulty or frequency of your micro habits too early then end up breaking your new habits.
Don’t ‘go big or go home’. It is much better to rely on compounding interest for growth, which is one of the most powerful forces on earth: 1% of compounding interest a day turns $100 into $3,778 by the end of the year!
Just like a business plan or strategy, with positive behaviour change first you need a plan (you don’t have a plan?). I recommend following the strategic staircase model rather than the ‘go big or go home’ shotgun approach. If you want to discuss using a strategic staircase model to drive positive change in your life email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
SNAPSHOT: Compounding interest turns micro habits into transformational habits.
Myth 3: You must have goals
Goals in life are important, however, when it comes to habit creation and behaviour change, many of you are creating the wrong types of goals.
One problem is that nearly all SMART goals, BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), and results-focused goals are future-focused. When it comes to creating new habits, a better way of looking at goals is to create what are known as open goals.
Open goals are more focused on the process and present, rather than an outcome in the future (which you usually cannot control). Open goals are often exploratory and can be described as “see how well I can do” goals. Research has shown that one of the major benefits of open goals, is that for those of us who are less goal-focused they improve confidence, are more enjoyable, and participants feel that they performed better when compared to SMART goals. Some examples of open goals are:
“Exercise every day.”
“Spend time reading a non-fiction book every week.”
“Practice daily mindfulness.”
Alignment is also important in setting goals and habit creation. Your new micro habits should be aligned with your goals, and ultimately the identity you are trying to create for yourself. James Clear, the author of Atomic habits, talks about identity-based habits and goals, we call them purpose-led habits at Mindhabit. Quite simply, purpose-led habits are much easier to embed into your daily routine.
SNAPSHOT: Focus on the present and your progress, and create open purpose-led goals to give yourself the best chance of success.
Myth 4: You can do it on your own
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” John Donne
Rather than only relying on yourself, when embedding healthy new habits you’ll achieve more if you get a little help from your community, and also make your environment work for you!
Find some accountability partners from your community who will hold you accountable for sticking to your positive behaviour change plan. One option is to ask a good friend to send you a daily ‘check-in’ message. Make sure you both agree that you need to respond to their message with either a yes or no, an emoji, or whatever works for you. Committing to a reply increases the ‘accountability factor’.
The science tells us that to a large degree your habits and behaviours are a product of your environment. One of the most effective ways you can get your environment working for you is what I mentioned earlier; by finding an everyday activity that you’re already doing, and turning it into a cue/trigger for your first new micro habit.
You can also put any number of visual cues up in your house or office to remind you to start your new habit. Anything from stickers and notes on your bedside table, wall, or fridge, through to reminders on your digital device
Another way you can get your environment to work for you is removing some ‘frictions’ that will stop you starting that new habit. One example of this is if you are going to add some form of exercise or fitness into your morning routine, make sure you get your fitness outfit / clothes out the night before.
SNAPSHOT: Make your environment work for you by finding cues and reducing what friction you can.
If you’ve got this far, bear with me for another few minutes! At the risk of stating the obvious, most if not all of the concepts and theory that I’ve shared originates from someone else. As the famous saying goes; “There is nothing new except what has been forgotten.” Marie Antoinette.
When it comes to habit and behaviour change theory there are seven world renowned experts listed below that I’d like to give particular credit to. Their work and theories have provided us with the knowledge and inspiration to create Thriverapp’s unique 3-Step Positive Behaviour Change Program. At the time of writing none are affiliated with Thriverapp or Mindhabit in any way.
W. Timothy Gallwey invented the ‘Inner Game Equation’, popularised by the book The Inner Game of Tennis, first published in 1975.
Sir John Whitmore, known as one of the founders of modern-day performance coaching, the creator of the GROW Model, and author of Coaching for Performance, first published in 1992.
Marshall Goldsmith and specifically his book Triggers published in 2015
Charles Duhigg who is the originator of the Habit Loop and wrote ‘The Power of Habit’ in 2012.
K. Anders Ericsson is the global expert on deliberate practice and the author of Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, first published in 2016
James Clear who published Atomic Habits in 2018
BJ Fogg the founder of the Behaviour Design Lab at Stanford University, and the author of ‘Tiny Habits’, first published in 2019. BJ’s work introduced us to his Tiny Habits Recipe which is the main inspiration for Thriverapp’s Habit Stack*.
If you’re interested in learning more about their work, feel free to reach out to me, or simply let your fingers do the ‘reaching out’ on your keyboard.
*Check out Mindhabit's free Happy Habit Stacking Quick Guide here.
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Keep on smiling out (or in) there.