4 Keys to Building Better Habits (Part 4)

Just Get Started!

The 4th and final part of our series – The Keys to Building Better Habits is here! So far we’ve talked about:

Part 1 – Focus on Long-Term Sustainability, not short-term gratification

Part 2 – Focus on Systems, Processes, Environment, not outcomes or results

Part 3 – Focus on Who We Want to Become

So if you haven’t read those I encourage you to do so now before moving on to the start 😊

And now we are going to get clear on our goals and get started building some better habits. Let’s go!

Part 4 – Focus on Getting Clear Around Your Goals and Just Start!

Often the most difficult part of developing new habits is just getting started! So really this is a win-win because you can do the hardest part first and just start! We just need to get some momentum going. And celebrate the small wins – the first day of drinking 80 oz of water! Win! The first day of flossing your teeth after a long hiatus! Win!

It can be helpful to start at the beginning of a pre-established period of time – like the beginning of the year, month, week. So even though I asked you not to make New Year’s Resolutions this can be a good time to start developing a new habit. The reason to start at the beginning (other than the beginning being the only place you can start? 😉 ) – hope is higher at the beginning of the year, the month, the week. It’s a fresh start, it feels motivating. Hope is a reason to take action.

Once you’ve started, the next key is consistency. You must continue getting started over and over again. Think of it in 2-minute increments, 2 days, 2 weeks…breaking habits/actions/behaviors into these smaller chunks is important to avoid overwhelm. And remember you have to start and be consistent with the basics, before you can optimize, scale up, or “perfect” something (even though there really is no perfect anything).

When starting on a new habit building journey, many people get a little ways in – a few days, weeks, and think they lack motivation to keep going…but, what the real issue might be is lack of clarity around when and where to take action. Specificity is important here – you must be crystal clear on exactly what time a behavior will happen and where you will do the behavior. If you are looking to start flossing your teeth regularly – when and where will you do this? It can be helpful to say out loud – to yourself or someone else: I will floss my teeth right after I brush my teeth in the morning after I wake in the master bathroom at the sink.

Whether you’re looking to break an existing habit or establish a new habit, it can be helpful to trace your actions along a behavior chain and back up as far as possible to start making changes. Say you would like to develop a habit of cooking dinner at home more rather than getting takeout. You start with meal planning, then grocery shopping, then prep and cooking. But say you’ve done all of this and Tuesday night rolls around, you get done with work late, you’re tired, etc, etc…and before you know it the delivery guy is knocking at your door with your takeout order. Uh oh! What happened? Looking back in the chain:

  • You’re tired – could you have prepped some easy, re-heat options ahead? Or had a salad prepped ahead? Could you take a 15-minute power nap before cooking? Could you go for a walk to get re-energized before cooking or while dinner’s in the oven?
  • You got done with work late – do you need to set better boundaries with a hard-stop time? Is there someone else in the household who could’ve gotten started on dinner? Same for the previous link?
  • Prep & Cooking – could you do this on your lunch hour? Or prep ingredients the night before or on the weekends?
  • Grocery shopping – are there quick options you can pick up for those nights when “you just can’t even” ? Bagged salad kits, rotisserie chicken, pre-cooked rice/quinoa mixes, frozen veggies – all work great for a quick dinner.
  • Meal planning – can you plan a couple quick, easy re-heat style meals for nights when you don’t feel like cooking? Can you plan some batch meals so you’ll have “leftovers” at the ready?

So, if we go all the way back to the first step in the behavior chain – meal planning – we can avoid the pitfalls of some of the later steps should things go off the rails.

Along the way, short-term feedback (and especially rewards) helps you keep up with the development of a “good” habit, this is where a lifestyle or wellness coach can be helpful in supporting you with that feedback.

Another way a coach can be helpful – helping you determine what your values are (if you don’t already know) and develop a plan to build habits in line with those values. Are your habits in alignment with your desired future? Then you can work to make choices/decisions, and take actions that line up with those values, with that future. I like to think of behavior change as a values proposition – is my behavior in alignment with my values? If not, you either need to change your behavior or re-define your values.

In determining whether or not your behavior is in alignment with your values, you may want to look at what season of life you are in. Just because you may be more focused on work at the moment, does not mean you don’t value your relationships with family and friends. It just means you have the work burner turned up, which leads to other burners being turned down. Remember, you can’t do it all. Balance is a myth. And…you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.

You might also ask yourself – what am I optimizing for? Is it health? This may mean leaving work on time so you can get a workout in. This may mean prioritizing sleep so you can get up early to workout before work starts for the day. If you’re optimizing for relationships (with health a close 2nd) with family/friends, it may mean asking a friend to go on a walk with you. Or asking your partner to prep a healthy dinner with you so you can spend more time together.

In my humble opinion we should all be optimizing for freedom. Stick with me here…Discipline = Freedom (thank you, Jocko Willink). Habits are created with a portion of discipline (but remember willpower is not the be all end all). Habits also create discipline. They create routine, automation. Habits give us the freedom and mental space for free thinking, for creativity. Habits and discipline can reduce the cognitive load of decision making for us. They can reduce decision making fatigue for us. If you always go for a run after work, every day no matter what, there is no decision there. It is automatic, it is a habit. You can save that decision energy for something else – what to eat for dinner, work-related, family-related, fun-related decision-making.

This is really the power of habits – quality of life, giving us freedom. Allowing us to be the people we want to be. Allowing us space for intentional living, for more joyful living. For living well. James Clear says, “Often the quality of our lives depends on the quality of our habits.” We ought to opt for the highest quality lives we can. We ought to opt to live up to our fullest potential. To thrive, not merely survive.

What are you optimizing for right now?

What are you merely surviving at? What do you need to start doing to change this area of your life?

For more ideas on developing habits, optimizing your life, and living more joyfully, check these out:

Want even more tips, tricks, and ideas for living well through nature, nourishment, movement and mindset? You know you do!

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