Why do we not do the things we want to,
and do the things we don’t?
The apostle Paul even wrote about it in Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.
Many times there are habits we want to stop, or habits we want to implement in our lives, yet we are consistently unsuccessful. We tend to beat ourselves up that we are lazy, or maybe even sinful. Unfortunately, this is just part of human nature. The good news is, you can train yourself to implement change in your life.
I am going to use an example that I got from Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits. He is talking mainly about exercise, but the steps are good and can work for ANY habit.
The Main Problems
In a nutshell, “It’s just too much to do, it’s overwhelming!”
So why do most people have trouble making exercise a regular habit? Well, there are probably a number of factors, but here are the main ones as I see it:
- Too difficult. People set out with a lot of ambition and enthusiasm, and start out with a big goal. “I’m going to go to the gym for an hour a day!” or “I’m going to run 30 minutes every day!” The problem is that the goal is too difficult to sustain for very long. You can do it for a few days, but you soon run out of energy, and it becomes a drag to do it.
- Too many goals. Often we set out to do too much. We want to run, and lift weights, and eat healthy, and quit sweets, and stop drinking soda. Well, those are multiple goals, and you cannot focus on the exercise habit if you’re trying to do all the others at the same time. Or we might start with one goal, but then get caught up in another goal (to stop procrastinating, for example), and lose our focus on the first one.
- Not enough motivation. It’s not a lack of discipline, it’s a lack of motivation. The most powerful motivators, in my experience, are logging your habit and public pressure. There are many others that help as well.
The 4 Simple Steps
So how do we solve those problems? Keep it simple. Here are the 4 simple steps to start the exercise habit (and keep it going). I should note that you can use these 4 steps to start any habit.
- Set one easy, specific, measurable goal. There are several keys to setting this crucial goal:
- Written: Write this down. Post it up. If you don’t write it down, it’s not important.
- Easy: Don’t — DO NOT — set a difficult goal. Set one that is super, super easy. Five minutes of exercise a day. You can do that. Work your way to 10 minutes after a month. Then go to 15 after 2 months. You can see what I mean: make it easy to start with, so you can build your habit, then gradually increase.
- Specific: By specific, I mean what activity are you going to do, at what time of day, and where? Don’t just say “exercise” or “I’m going to walk”. You have to set a time and place. Make it an appointment you can’t miss.
- Trigger: I recommend that you have a “trigger” right before you do your habit. For example, you might always brush your teeth right after you shower. The shower is the trigger for brushing your teeth, and because of that, you never forget to brush your teeth. Well, what will you do right before you exercise? Is it right after you wake up? Right after your coffee? Right when you get home? As soon as you take off for lunch? A trigger that you do every single day is important.
- Measurable: By measurable, I mean that you should be able to say, definitely, whether you hit or miss your goal today. Examples: run for 10 minutes. Walk 1/2 a mile. Do 3 sets of 5 pushups. Each of those has a number that you can shoot for.
- One goal: Stick to this one goal for at least a month. Two months if you can bear it. Don’t start up a second goal during that 30-day period. If you do, you are scrapping this goal.
- Log it daily. This is the key habit. If you can log your workout, you will start to see your progress, and it will motivate you to keep going. And you have to make it a habit to log it right away. Don’t put it off, and say you’ll do it before you go to bed. As soon as you’re done working out, log it. No exceptions. And don’t make the log complicated — that will only make you resist doing the log. Just the date, time, and what you did.
- Report to others. I think this is key. You can do it on your blog, on an online forum, with your spouse, or friends or family, or a workout partner, or a coach, or a group, or a class. However you set it up, make it part of the process that you have to report your daily workout to other people. It could be using an online log, or on a forum, or through email, or the phone, or just by telling your co-workers what you did this morning. But be sure that they know your goal, and that you are going to report to them, and be sure that they are expecting it every day.
- Add motivation as needed. The first three steps might be enough for you to get the habit going. But if not, don’t just give up. If you miss two consecutive workouts, you need to look at why, and add a new motivation. Rewards, more public pressure, inspiration, whatever it takes. Read this article for more on this. You can add one additional motivator, and then see if it works. If you miss two more consecutive workouts at any time, add another motivator. And so on, until the exercise habit sticks.
Again, while Leo is basically talking about exercise in general here, these steps will work for ANY HABIT. I encourage you, if there is something you are trying to stop doing or something you want to implement in your life, work through each of these steps to see how it would play out.
One of My Elephants
My regular readers know that I have been dealing with depression and anxiety since this summer. I actually have a difficult time leaving the house. I need to go to the Y to exercise, but have not been making it there. I tend to make it a lot harder on myself than I should. I realized that I don’t want to go through the trouble of getting dressed and getting my shoes on, etc. So, my very first goal for me to work on really isn’t about exercise, but about me getting myself presentable and dressed AS IF I WERE gonna go to the gym. In my mind I feel that is half the battle. And I will probably use my Google calendar to track it. And my trigger? Have my workout clothes easily accessible, and instead of throwing on my old house grubbiesfirst thing in the morning, dress in gym clothes and put my shoes on.
To many of you, that may seem so simplistic, and say “I need to change something bigger than that, this won’t work for me! That is the issue with me and with many people. We take the whole leg of the elephant and try to carm it in our mouth and don’t see that it is possible. We just have to take that one little bite, and once we do that, it tastes SO GOOD, we take one more bite. It will take time, but eventually you can eat the elephant, one little bite at a time!
What about you? What is your elephant in YOUR life that you would like to be eating right now?
My goal is to help as many people as possible with these issues we all deal with! Be sure to subscribe via email or RSS so you don’t miss any posts! If you know of someone who would benefit from the info in this post and in my blog and you would like to share with them, please click on the appropriate link below!