When you begin to think about making changes in your life often, the thought is to “go big or go home.” Taking significant actions seems at first to make sense: ‘if you are going to make needed changes, why not go all in?’ I, too, at one time, believed this mantra and set out to change my life in significant ways and in just a few days. Only in a few days to become overwhelmed, discouraged with no visible results, and then quickly abandon my plans. There are so many examples: diets, exercise, debt elimination, saving for retirement, spiritual disciplines, acquiring a new skill, and relationship repairs, to name a few. Habit-building is one place where some counter-intuitive thinking is in order. Want to make a significant change in your life? Start small!
You are today where you are through a series of small decisions and actions which have become habits. These habits have contributed to how you live, work, and relate to others. Practices are neutral; they are neither bad nor good in and of themselves; it is where they take you that leads to positive or negative results. Our habits are the building blocks of our lives. You and I do daily things that at one time were a challenge for us, such as brushing our teeth. Today, you more than likely brushed your teeth automatically, as well as several other daily tasks.
How should I go about kicking a bad habit and developing a good practice? Here are a few suggestions:
Think small: First, determine what it is that you want to change or a skill to develop or a goal to achieve, then break it down into small actions that will eventually get you the desired result. In the beginning, start small! If you want to get in shape, start by buying some proper sneakers. Start by walking around the block every day for the next two weeks. Go to the gym for 10 minutes, five days this week.
Think consistency: You will know if the action steps are small enough if they are easy to do. Likewise, they are also easy not to do. Therefore the second step is to work for consistency. Want to read for an hour, start with five minutes. Tell yourself that over the next five days, you are going to read for five minutes only. Once you make an effort and begin reading, you may think, ‘since I am already into this book, and have the time, I am going to read another five minutes.’ The point is to build consistency. Small, incremental changes only work when done “consistently.”
Start: Thinking is not starting; planning is not starting; wishing is not either; it is only when real and tangible action takes place that you have begun. There can be no momentum or progress until you start!
Trust: Small steps do not lead to significant results immediately; it will take some time. We live today in a hurry, microwave society that wants results yesterday. The key at this point in habit-building is to trust the process. You may not be able to see the results you desire tomorrow, next week, or even next month, but there will be results in due time. I find during these times to measure the actions and not be as focused on the results. Doing the right things and doing the right things with consistency will lead to the desired results.
Enjoy. What do you mean? How can this be fun? The process may not be fun, but the practice of habit-building will place you in a unique place: from a person who quits blaming and gives up, into a person who sees that you can change and do things that you thought were out of your reach. Give yourself credit for being someone who decided to do the right thing and build good habits and a better tomorrow.
You can do it! I know you can! I would love to hear about your experiences with habit-building.