Three Steps to Lasting Change

Want to make some changes… but can’t stick to your guns?

When we think about change we often think big hefty things, that seem hard to shift – like trying to exercise more (consistently), going to sleep earlier, spending less time on our phones, or doing our tax returns on time (next year, I promise). 

Often these are changes we’ve attempted to make many times over. At the beginning of the year or when we turn 30, 40, 50, we set lofty goals for ourselves with all the good intention in the world, but overtime our motivation dwindles and we get distracted by the 20 other balls we’re juggling.

I recently learnt that the trick to making change happen… Is to rely on habits rather than motivation.

Motivation requires sustained energy – and let’s face it… most of us are spread pretty thin as it is. This means that when we get busy with life, kids, friends or work – our motivation to change seemingly evaporates, and before we know it we’re back to our old routines. 

But habits are different. Habits are automatic. This means that they require very little thought or energy. When we brush our teeth, do up our shoelaces, put on our makeup… it doesn’t take much thought or energy. And when life gets busy these ‘habits’ don’t fall by the wayside.

Dr Fogg from Stanford University coined the term ‘Tiny Habits’ and notes that sustainable change happens in tiny weeny baby steps – I have to say, I agree with the guy. 

According to Fogg there are a couple of rules to ‘Tiny Habits’:

Rule 1: A tiny habit should be something that:

  • You do every day
  • Takes less than 30 seconds (yep, teeny tiny)
  • Requires little effort

Rule 2: Tiny habits need to be linked to something that you already do every day. So that you can use this established habit to trigger your new tiny habit. This sounds simple… and it is! 

Since learning about Dr Fogg’s ‘Tiny Habits’, I’ve been able to make some sustainable and positive changes. Some of which, I’ve been trying… and retrying to make… for a long time now.  

You may wonder – how helpful it is to change something for 30 seconds a day. I wondered the same thing. Unsurprisingly not much happens in 30 seconds, but it turns out that 30 seconds a day add up, and can lead to some pretty impressive change over time. Particularly if your tiny habits are linked to bigger goals.

For a while now I’ve wanted to change a couple of things:

  • I’m a closet driver (as in, I drive with half my closet in my car – and many things that get chucked in my backseat, never make their way out again).
  • I’m also one of those people who don’t make their bed… and have always wondered why other people seem to get this done? 
  • Lastly, I’ve wanted to improve my general knowledge, particularly on current affairs, as I never seem to find the time to sit down and digest the broadsheet.

So using the Tiny Habits formula I decided that:

When: I get out of my car at home

I will: take one thing from my backseat and to put it away inside

And congratulate myself by: doing a little fist pump

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When: I wake up and roll out of bed

I will: make my bed immediately

And congratulate myself by: giving myself a little pat on the back

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When: I get in the car to go to work

I will: turn on the ABC radio or listen to a TED talk

And congratulate myself by: Laying out some positive reinforcement “Good one Leesh” (Yes, I actually do this...) 

I’m pleased to tell you that these are now well-established habits of mine. (Almost) every day now… I get in a car with a (close to) empty backseat, I can’t wait to hear what the next TED-star has to say, and I come home to a tidy bed (well the doona is pulled up at least).

Great success! These changes sound small, but accumulatively they’ve given me a sense of achievement. Which is more than I can say for my yo-yo diets and occasional attempts at going to bed earlier (these are next on my list).

So, the trick is to keep it quick, simple and regular. Link it to something you already do… and remember to give yourself a little positive reinforcement. 

Easy right? Imagine the possibilities…

Try it for yourself by filling in the blanks below…  

When:__________________

I will: _____________________

And I congratulate myself by: ___________________ 

It might take a little effort to remember your new habit at first… but the beauty is, that the more you do it, the more automatic (and less effortful) it becomes. And if you fumble a little at first, spare yourself the guilt fest… as research from the University College London indicates that missing one or two opportunities to practice a new habit, does not affect the habit formation process.  So if you miss a day… just get back on the bandwagon tomorrow... 

Let us know how you go. We’d love to hear (in the comments below) any tips, roadblocks or habit-setting success stories. 

With Warmth, Alicia

May You Keep Happiness In Sight xx