Habit change isn’t easy. At least, that’s what most people come to believe after they’ve tried and failed a few times. But there’s good news – ever since you were a baby you have been a walking, talking habit machine and it’s not that change itself is difficult, it’s that we’ve been going about it in the wrong way. Here are the three mistakes to avoid when trying to change habits.
1. Relying on willpower or motivation
Nike might say “Just Do It”, but that’s not always enough. In fact our motivation ebbs and flows like a wave and the trick is to capitalise on moments of high motivation to make the hard decisions (e.g. sourcing the right gym which can take time and energy) so that when our motivation invariably dips (often when we’re cozy in bed or snuggled on the couch) we are already committed. Remember to plan for the most exhausted version of yourself.
2. Think you always act rationally
Just because we know what we should do doesn’t mean we do it. Eat well, exercise, take time to relax, focus on loved ones…a healthy life is not hard on paper is it? Sadly we constantly self-sabotage and rationalise behaviour that is not in keeping with our goals – it’s part of being human and is what behavioural economics has shone a great big light on. Promising to eat well at the start of the week and by the end of the week gorging on pizza and beer, or buying those expensive shoes today and worrying about saving for a house later, the trick is to design our habits in spite of these irrational behaviours, outsmarting ourselves so we can stick to our longer term plan.
3. Underestimate your environment
Our environment has a massive impact on our behaviour, often without us being consciously aware. Use a bigger bowl or bigger spoon and you’ll find you eat more ice-cream. Play French music in the background and you’ll tend to buy French wine. Hang out with people who are obese and you are more likely to be too. Both our physical and social environment shape our behaviour so the trick is to take charge and set ourselves up for success. Pay attention to where you are and who is around because that will have a significant impact on how you live your life.
For more on the how of making and breaking habits, including a personal action plan check out my very popular book “The How of Habits”.