A Leader's True North (Part 4 of 4)

DEVELOPING LIFE LONG HABITS by Stan Wiens

Discipline is hard.  Habits are easy.  Most of our lives are lived from engrained habits, good or bad. The way you brush your teeth is the same, every time.  You don’t have to think – you just do it.  Washing your hair, zipping up your jacket, making the bed, accelerating your car when you see a yellow light, these all happen instinctively and easily. 

Try this experiment tonight.  Brush your teeth with your opposite hand.  It is so awkward and difficult.  Why?  It is not a habit.  Discipline is hard, habits are easy.  Even with bad habits, they too are easy and require no thinking.  For me, a bag of chips can magically open when my feet go up and I start watching the game.  I can grab a 3rd, 4th, 5th cookie when 2 would have been fine.

 Effective change happens best when we take the slow and steady approach and build one habit at a time.  Tackling five things and getting overwhelmed usually leaves us where we started. You will be stunned when you realize how far you can go on a journey by taking one step at a time. Discipline is hard UNTIL it becomes a habit.

 Here are four quick steps to help implement habits.  They are simple, powerful and it will last your entire life.

Step 1 - Choose your habit and pick a start date. 

Select one good habit you could start doing or one bad habit you could stop doing.  Make it simple.  For example, I will eat one piece of fruit with my lunch; drink a bottle of water before noon; stop snacking two hours before bed; go to bed consistently at the same time; stop eating ice cream except for Friday.  

Simple and clear.  Now put a start date beside it that is more than 3 days from today.  It has been proven that delaying your start date sends your brain the message that this is going to be important, and builds some anticipation.  So write down a start date.

Step 2 - Connect your new habit to something you already do.

For example, if you want to eat an apple every morning, place it by the coffee maker the night before.  Or, if you want to do light exercise, select an activity like washing dishes or brushing your teeth and when you do one, you do the other.

Here’s what I do.  One of my habits is daily exercise, it’s not up for negotiation, and I link it to my cup of coffee.  When I take that first sip I commit at that moment to what I will do for activity that day because my schedule often changes. 

Step 3 - Plan ahead for habit killing activities 

The usual habit killers are weekends, parties, special occasions or just about anything that throws a curve ball at your habit.

One strategy I use is to eat a healthy snack or meal before going to an event or celebration. When I get there I don’t have to make a scene or draw attention to my food choices.  I can simply be selective and I don’t go in hungry and eat half the buffet.

Step 4 - Avoid perfection

Striving for perfection causes anxiety and stress which is likely more unhealthy than your bad habit.   We are not trying to become skinny, or fitness freaks.  We are realistic and we are taking the approach of one incremental step at a time.  Wait until you have mastered one habit before adding a new one.

I have been experimenting with habits, nutrition and exercise for many years.  I have learned that if you take one step at a time and adopt habits, you will be amazed at how healthy you can become in one year.  In five years you will have adopted and completely transformed dozens of little habits that each contribute to a healthier lifestyle. 

Now go and eat an apple instead of a donut.

 

  Stan Wiens

The Health Project: Coach