Get started and then keep going!

Sometimes you experience these amazing moments when you do something new or different and a habit is born. It feels like no effort and we just do it from now on until forever. It turns into a human perpetual motion machine, that magical machine that theoretically shouldn’t exist on earth but here it is. We are looking forward to this new way of doing things, it just doesn’t feel like work. It’s easy, natural, effortless.

And then there are all these other situation: We really want to establish a new habit, a different way of doing things, a new style of communication or whatever it might be. We know about the benefits for our career, for the company, for our health, for our family and still it’s incredibly hard and often we fail. Sometimes we don’t even get started. If we get started it turns out to be real hard work to turn this into something that doesn’t need a real effort again and again. Where is the perpetual motion machine – why is it not working? Where is the magic? When is it easy when is it hard? What can we learn from research?

Some background

What we are talking about are habits. Habits are the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day. Researchers at Duke University discovered, that habits account for about 40 percent of our behaviors on any given day. So our lives are to a significant amount the sum of our habits. How healthy we live, how happy we are, how successful we are is strongly impacted by our habits. Did we establish a regular workout habit, a healthy nutrition habit, an effective learning habit, a good collaboration habit, a gratefulness habit? On the other side what destructive, unhealthy, ineffective habits did we establish, that stop us from getting what we really want. Did we establish a fast food habit, a constantly checking my phone habit, a procrastination habit? 

If you want to shape your life you got to choose your habits. But how to get from a good intention to a habit? That’s a question for each individual as much as it is for teams and companies. The sum of our habits in a team will determine the culture we live in. In this article I’ll look at the individual. There will be a follow-up article focussing on how to translate this to the team and corporate side. 

“We are what we repeatedly do. Greatness then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle

There is some advice from research out there for establishing good habits:

  1. Start small – don’t overdo it! Building a new habit requires motivation and willpower. Motivation gets us started, willpower keeps us going. Willpower it turns out is not fixed, it’s a muscle you can train and that’s exactly why you should start small. If you train for running you don’t start with a 10k you build it up slowly. The same you need to do with willpower. Start with such a small habit, that you cannot say no and start with one habit at a time, e.g.:
    1. If you want to meditate regularly: Do a 1 minute mediation not 15 minutes.
    2. If you want to exercise more: Start walking to the bakery instead of taking the car. 
    3. If you want to set up a conversation for success: Start each conversation with a smile.
  2. Decide beforehand and plan carefully. You don’t want to decide every morning again to get up and go for a walk or run. The danger that your brain comes up with wonderful arguments against your intention is way too big. So the secret is you take the decision  beforehand and then you just execute without revisiting the decision. The evening before is a great moment to take or retake your decisions, e.g.: „When I wake up tomorrow morning I get out of bed, make myself a coffee-to-go and go for a 30 min brisk walk.“ The next morning you don’t allow yourself to rethink you just do. However, it is important to connect your habit to a specific event and make it a „when… then…“- relationship. When I get home from work then I will make myself a healthy snack of fruits and vegetables.
  3. Set your habit building up as a 60 day challenge. Building a habit takes probably about 6 to 8 weeks. The longer you have been going on without interruption the harder it will be for yourself to break that chain. The only thing you have to do is to make your chain visible to you. Apps and computer games use this mechanism very successfully. Every parent with a young teenage child has probably gone crazy about the kid collecting „flames“ on snapchat and that they cannot possibly break that chain. You get a flame for every consecutive day you send a snap to a friend. It’s a very powerful principle so find your visualisation, your flame, for your chain, get started and don’t break it.

So what is the most important habit you want to start building? What’s the smallest version of that habit? When exactly are you going to do it? How do you visually set-up your chain? And now get start it!






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