I recently created a Meetup group for young professionals who are passionate about personal development. We meet for dinner, good conversations and to create some accountability around our goals. One way we remain motivated is by reading a common book and sharing what inspired us.
For our first book, I chose ‘Better than Before’ by Gretchen Rubin. She broke onto the scene a while back with her very popular book ‘The Happiness Project’. When writing this book Gretchen discovered there was a strong correlation between habits and happiness and so “Better Than Before” has a strong emphasis on habit formation as a means of achieving happiness. She makes a strong case on habit formation and the book is backed by lots of research and strategy. She presents a clear path to changing your habits so you can become the best version of yourself.
The premise of the book is that habits equal happiness, which at first seems like a bit of a leap but as I progressed through the pages I became a firm believer that there is, in fact, quite a lot of truth to this. Those who exercise daily, eat regular healthy meals and make the effort to spend time meaningfully engaging with their loved ones are in general more happy.
‘How we schedule our day is how we spend our lives’ - Gretchen Rubin
This line resonated deeply with me, especially since my Life Coach training focuses on making small baby changes to the present, to get to a better future. For example, I currently do x, y, and z and these activities define my current life situation. If I want to improve my situation I have to make some fundamental changes to x, y, and z. If I don’t do it, I am just going to be where I am, even ten years from now!
Life coaches know that without a clear strategy we cannot change ourselves to accomplish anything, no matter how small. If I want to be fit and healthy, I have to exercise regularly. Not just when I feel like it, not just a couple of days in the month. If I want to write a book, I need to develop a routine of writing 500 words a day. If I want to eat better, I need to get into the habit of meal preparation in advance. I have to have an action plan in place and arrange my life so that positive changes become a habit.
Here are 5 great tips (from Gretchen and me!) to help you transform that new change into a lasting habit!
Tip One: Monitoring
If we are left to our own devices we will always overestimate how often we do things like exercise and underestimate other things like food portions or calorie intake. Monitoring our behaviour is a way to keep us true to ourselves and true to our habits. This monitoring is essentially data collection, so you have hard numbers in front of you that give you a clear picture of your life. For example, you could hang a calendar and mark off the days you exercised, or note down the number of pages you read each day or use an app to log in the meal you ate at dinner. You determine how often you want to do something and then keep a record to verify if you are actually doing it. If you can stick with it long enough, it will soon become a habit!
Tip Two: Utilise your Mornings
Read any successful person’s autobiography and they will talk about the power of mornings. Getting your most important tasks done first thing in the morning increases your chances of actually accomplishing that task. Before the busyness of the day kicks in, before those unpredictable and other ‘important’ tasks show up. Getting up early is your chance to put yourself and those important activities first.
I do this with exercise. Some people go to the gym after work. Personally I don’t know how they have the motivation. I know myself and I know that if I don’t exercise first thing in the morning it is unlikely to happen later in the day. So I smash it out first thing and then it’s done.
Tip Three: Attach it to an existing habit
You cannot reinvent yourself overnight. Assess where you are and start from there. Research shows that attaching a new habit to an existing one is the best way to cement it into your daily life. Especially a habit that is automatic and requires little or no brain power. Gretchen contends the reason habits are so powerful is because they don’t take up your brain space, they are automatic. What slows us down from doing those productive things we know benefit us? The act of cross-questioning ourselves.
For example, waking up and asking ‘Should I go for a walk?’ Is half the battle lost. Don’t give yourself the chance to ask such questions. Attach it to an existing habit. The alarm goes off, the first thing you do is put on your exercise clothes and before you know it you’re at the gym.
For me, I tied my morning ritual of having a coffee to reading. Now I love my new morning routine of drinking coffee and taking the time to do something important to me. It sets me up for the day, knowing that I’ve already ticked off something important off my to-do list.
Tip Four: Know your why
The surest way to maintain persistence and perseverance with any habit is to know your WHY. If you are not convinced of the benefits of exercise, or if being in shape isn’t as important to you as you would like to think than it’s going to be mighty difficult to sustain energy and motivation doing something day in and day out.
Many people will tell you that regularly exercise is important but everyone will have a different reason WHY. Some people exercise regularly because they want to look good in a bikini, others because they recently had a heart attack and close encounter with death, others because they have a young family and they want to live to see their grand-kids grow up. The action is the same but the WHY is different. What is your WHY? Get crystal clear on it because that’s what will get you up early to get to the gym on a freezing, winter morning.
Tip Five: Know your type
Gretchen has created a model called the four tendencies which divides people into four personality types:
“Upholders” respond readily to outer and inner expectations. They keep the work deadline, and the New Year’s resolution, fairly easily.
“Questioners” question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense and meets their own inner standards — so they follow only inner expectations.
“Obligers” meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves. An Obliger journalist has no trouble writing when he has an editor, colleagues, and deadlines, but struggles to write a novel in his free time.
“Rebels” resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They want to do what they want, in their own way, and if you ask or tell them to do something, they’re likely to resist.
Knowing your type will help you make better headway with habit formation. For example an Obliger is more likely to succeed by introducing an accountability partner into their life - someone they can “report to” about their life goals or life tasks. A “Questioner” is better able to succeed when they introspect deeply and discover their deepest inner motivations. Upholders usually require more clarity on long term and short term goals while Rebels prefer living in the moment to retain motivation and momentum, As a Life Coach, I help my clients by using different methods that best suit their needs. Even if the external goal is the same, the path to reach that goal is different as an individual and that’s where I step in!
I am grateful to Gretchen for adding more clarity and research to my Life coaching work and my life! I hope this article has helped you to reflect upon your daily habits and determine whether you are doing enough to become your ideal version of yourself. Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions that you may have!