How often do you hear someone say “I know what I should be doing, I’m just not doing it”. The simplicity of their statement implies that the behavior they’re seeking is like turning a light on and off. The reality may not be that simple. Stronger forces are likely at work all tied to the incredible power of habits.
I first heard the following short story from my mentor Darren Hardy on habits and their power to rule our lives.
There was a wise old man walking in the woods with his young apprentice. He asked the young man to pull up a small seedling only a few inches tall. The boy easily followed his instructions and they continued their walk.
Next the old man asked his young apprentice to pull up a small sapling about four feet tall and with some considerable effort, he was able to do so.
Finally, they approached a full-grown oak where the young apprentice could barely see the top and the wise old man asked him to pull it up. He looked back at his master in disbelief and said there’s no possible way without some help.
And “help” is the operative word. Habits can become so deeply ingrained that they become like steel cables where there’s very little chance of breaking them…without some help. According to the Harvard Business Review, 40% to 45% of our daily actions are automatically governed by habit…for better or worse.
So for example, when someone who struggles with their weight says they know what they should be eating but they’re simply not doing it. It’s true that they may know what to eat.
The challenge is that they don’t understand the “why” behind their eating habits. That’s where help is needed to bridge the gap of understanding leading to better compliance and ultimately a more healthy diet.
For someone who struggles with food, a personal trainer or dietitian or even psychologist may be helpful. For a struggling business executive, a personal coach could be a huge benefit. Whatever your challenge, there is a source of help that could make all the difference in you overcoming your struggle. From professional counsel to something as simple as an accountability partner or even a book, help can come in a variety of forms.
“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”
Here’s what I know. When you’re seeking to get rid of a bad habit, it will take work. The best way to overcome a bad habit is to replace it with something new and positive. You can’t just stop a given activity and not fill the void. Nature abhors a vacuum and so the best strategy is to plug-in the new to replace the old.
Let me repeat, this will take work. To borrow from our story above, depending on the size of your personal “tree”, it could take a considerable effort to overcome the chains of your negative habit. There’s a widely held belief that 21 days is the magical time frame to turn a new positive activity into a habit. In some cases, this can be true. However when dealing with habits entrenched over a period of years, it could literally take hundreds of repetitions of the new to replace the old.
There’s another common belief that says for someone to truly change, they must hit rock bottom. From a very recent personal experience, I can tell you this is simply not true. According to my life long mentor, Andy Andrews, there are only two elements needed for true and lasting change and hitting rock bottom is not one of them.
The first element is “Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”. I recently had some major dental work done that was also extremely expensive. I didn’t ask my dentist prior to the procedure about whether chewing gum would be an option afterwards. Two trips and 11 hours of dental work later, the question came up regarding my fetish for gum chewing.
He said, “Well, you can, but you run the risk of messing up what we just did”. Did I mention that the procedure was 11 hours of rather painful work spread over two days and that it was very expensive? Based on his comment, it wasn’t even a question. If there was even a 1% chance of me messing up my dental work, that was all the proof I needed to hear. So…no more gum chewing for me. Can you say “Hello Sugar free Life Savers”?
The second element is “What’s in it For Me”. Well this was pretty simple and hitting rock bottom had nothing to do with it. I want to do everything possible to protect the investment I just made and giving up gum was a super simple decision under the circumstances.
If you’re not into chewing gum, this may not seem like a big deal. I on the other hand have not gone a day without chewing gum since college…and that was a long time ago. Never in a million years prior to my dental work would I have considered giving it up, but in a moment, when the circumstances changed, it was nothing to start a new direction…gum free.
Closing thoughts for my readers:
So what negative habit would you like to replace? Once identified, what positive habit do you need to put into place to overcome the negative? Now based on the examples above, you must start small and work towards your goal of implementing the new habit on a regular basis. The frequency will depend on the habit.
Changing your eating would be a daily goal. Going to the gym 4 days a week is different and yet the commitment to go is every bit as important based on the frequency you’ve established.
Please don’t get tripped up with being overwhelmed at the potential enormity of what you’re seeking to accomplish. Just take the first step. Have an apple instead of the bag of chips. Drink a bottle of sugar-free flavored water instead of the sugar loaded soft drink.
Commit to going to the gym tomorrow and forget about the rest of the week. Just get the first workout under your belt and then commit to the next.
Imagine standing at the bottom of a 30 story set of spiral stairs with the goal of reaching the top. If from the beginning, you focus your attention at the top, it could seem very overwhelming. If however you focus on reaching the first step, success will come easily. Having reached the first step, the second will come easy as well. It may take some time, but by focusing on one step at a time, success is virtually guaranteed. It’s amazing how small “baby” steps can add up.
And for a final mental anchor, once you determine your proof beyond a reasonable doubt, focus all your efforts on your “why” (what’s in it for you) and let that be your beacon and guiding light as you journey towards your personal growth and improvement.