There’s no shortage of books about how to positively change your behavior. Lucky for you, I’ve read many of these books and think about habits as part of behavior change for my job daily. The science of behavior change is much more than changing one small thing in your life, but one way to change behavior is to make the change easier for people. It’s important to consider barriers to change and to fully understand what it really requires.
You’ll find conflicting research about how long it really takes to change a habit. Some say 28 days; others, much longer. Recent studies show it actually depends on the habit. An easier change will take less time to adopt. If it’s a full-scale change to your lifestyle, give yourself some grace and don’t give up if it takes more time than you expect. One of the greatest takeaways in these books is that your dedication to the process of change can be even more important than the change itself.
One of the most-read books on habits in the last few years is Atomic Habits by James Clear, which is a good reminder for all of us about how to create change in our lives. Here are my three favorite takeaways from his book:
WHAT TYPE OF PERSON ARE YOU?
The lesson that lingers with me most from Clear’s book is the notion of who you wish to be. He recommends asking yourself, “What type of person do you want to be?” This recommendation hit me deep. Do I want to be someone who binge-watches reality TV at night? Or do I want to be a reader, a runner or someone who actually gets a decent amount of sleep? Once you’ve decided that, it’s easier to put yourself in the types of situations that will help you become the type of person you want to be. According to Clear, “The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do.”
OUTCOMES WILL COME.
A lesson most need to learn with habit change is that change (in your body, mindset, etc.), doesn’t happen overnight. In some cases, you might even feel worse before you feel better. Reminding yourself that “you are what you repeat” can help you stay on track. Clear writes that you should be more worried about the process and trajectory than the results. He writes, “When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy.”
Clear reminds us that the path to good habits starts with just showing up. When you decide what type of person you want to be and you start to work those changes into your day, it's time to show up for them. If you want to read more, pick up a book and read. Even doing it for 2 minutes is better than none, because at least you are on the trajectory to creating the habit. One of my favorite quotes from the book is: “Successful people show up despite the feelings of boredom.” He goes on to say, “Professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way.” Running on a treadmill can be boring, but showing up, doing it and working through the boredom will get you to the results. Clear also recommends giving yourself grace; you can miss one day and not give up or be mad at yourself, but don’t miss two.
...dedication in the process to change is potentially even more important than the change itself.
The Power of Habit
Duhigg coined the term “keystone habits,” which refers to the habits that lead to other positive behaviors and effects in your life. Author and pastor Craig Groeschel frequently remarks that flossing is his keystone habit. If he keeps up with flossing, everything else falls into place. It may sound silly, but think about your life. If you stop running, you might stop drinking as much water or eating as healthy, because without running, you could feel worse about yourself and turn to poor coping skills. People who exercise regularly might be more productive at work, have more patience and feel less stressed. Getting enough sleep could easily be a keystone habit that impacts your daily outlook.
The Power to Change
The Power to Change, written by Craig Groeschel, pulls many of the same theories as the others. Groeschel talks about discipline and training. “Trying doesn’t work. Training does. Training is a commitment to strategic habits you do before the moment that equip you to do the right thing in the moment.” He also writes that “Discipline is choosing what you want most over what you want now.”
Aligning with Clear’s idea of falling in love with the process, Groeschel encourages us to make the action of doing habit the win. Losing weight is not the win; walking 10,000 steps each day is. When you think like this, you get to win every day.
Habit change and working on yourself can greatly increase your mindset. Thinking about who you want to be requires action on changing your environment and setting yourself up for success. In their book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath call this "shaping the path." If I want to exercise in the morning, I should set out my clothes the night before, put my running shoes right by my bed and create the environment that leads to success. At VI, we educate people who smoke about how to create an environment that makes them no longer want to smoke, encouraging them to clean out their cars, to keep mints in the consoles and to find something to do with their hands.
The best decision I made was to start with a few key changes I wanted to make. A daily habit tracker became an essential way for me to track my progress and see what I had accomplished. I didn’t try to tackle reading, running, flossing every day, drinking more water and better sleep habits all at once; I decided what my keystone habit would be and then added more habits as they became more routine.
Additionally, all of these authors mention the importance of giving yourself grace and allowing yourself to fall in love with the process. Remember: You are what you repeatedly do. So, who do you want to be?
You can learn more about VI's annual 3o Days of Change campaign here.