e habitThe next tip for successful habit change is neither exciting nor sexy, but is a deal-breaker in the habit change game, and not to be underestimated.
When I tell you what it is, it may sound so obvious that you’ll want to stop reading, but I encourage you not to. If you’re struggling with creating a new habit or breaking an old one, you’re likely doing the exact opposite of this tip.
Here it is:
Make it easy-peasy, by focusing on ONE degree shifts.
The habit psychology research reveals that when we make the desired habit easier to do than not, we raise our rates for long-term habit change dramatically.
As obvious as this may sound however, this is not what people tend to do.
In fact, most do the exact opposite, and if you’re struggling, you might be too.
Let’s dive deeper…
Generally, we establish new goals and habit strategies when we’re in highly motivated states. We may be feeling frustration and impatience with current state, along with high desire for something different. We may also be feeling the hope, optimism and thrill of new possibility.
Combined, these energies motivate us to go beyond what we’re otherwise normally ready, able and willing to do. Although being highly motivated and setting lofty goals may sound great, the problem is that it leads us into “ideal’ plans that don’t account for:
- shifting motivational states
- the nature of willpower
- current life circumstances and priorities
- our time availability
- what we’re ready, willing and able to do on a consistent basis
- the skills, resources, support, and strategies that the plan requires
Become unstoppable with 1 degree steps.
Did you know that water simmers at 211F, but boils at 212F?
Just one degree is the change-maker, and such is the case with habit-change.
When it comes to habits, CONSISTENCY is the magic. Successful habit masters make their desired habits so easy, that even on their toughest, lowest motivation/willpower days, they’re still able to execute and maintain consistency. Those who can’t establish the habit are simply making it too hard.
In this arena, the “go big or go home” mentality is sudden-death for habit change.
What the masters know:
- The more behaviors we attempt to change at once, the lower our long-term success will be.
In fact, trying to change more than just ONE habit, is usually too much.
- Motivation fluctuates based on countless factors, doesn’t last and can’t be relied upon.
It’s a mental/emotional state that is fluid and shifting, and we must be able and willing to act, even when we’re not motivated.
- Willpower is not infinite.
Like gas in a fuel tank, unless we’re topping it up regularly through the day, it decreases with use and every decision we make. New habits require mindfulness and therefore active willpower to execute. The more willpower needed to engage our habit, the less consistent we’ll be for obvious reasons.
SOLUTION 1: Simplify by focusing on ONE habit at a time.
Think of yourself as a plate-spinner, and that you have 15 going already (ya, you’re good!). Now, let’s say that making ONE habit change adds at least another five plates (why five and not one, is because like Domino’s, each habit change requires a shift in a whole series of other actions).
Working on two new habits then, doesn’t just add two plates as people often think, but 10. When we’re already operating close to max capacity, adding five more plates may be doable, but ten, not so pretty.
How might this look?
- If you want to improve your health, prioritizing sleep, fitness, nutrition or meditation are all great strategies – but for long term success, choose only one to focus on.
- Once that habit is solid, add another, and so forth.
SOLUTION 2: When it comes to goals, aim high! When it comes to habit change, aim low.
When we create our plan from a state of high motivation, we usually consider neither the tremendous effort our plan will require on low-motivation days, nor the tremendous power of our inner rebel.
The above concept is counter-intuitive for most high-achievers, but worthy of reflection.
Let’s use the above example, and imagine you’re just trying to begin a fitness regime after a few years “off”. Rather than planning to workout one hour per day over lunch hour, this strategy would encourage that each work day, you simply show up to the gym and ride the bike for 5 minutes.
That’s it. From there you can go back to work.
Likely not, but for your gold star, you could.
It may not sound like much, but this brilliant strategy overcomes the incredible resistance to action when we’re reaching beyond our capacity or willpower reserves. Additionally, it supports consistency, thereby fostering a sense of success and boosting motivation to keep going.
Remember: aiming low doesn’t set a limit on how much you do, but rather, lowers the bar in order to make initiating action easy. Once in action, you’ve got momentum – this is your key!
Notice if you can relate to this pattern…
Think back to a time you designed an elaborate new plan of success for yourself. New Years Resolutions tend to be perfect examples.
Remember the first few days? Likely they were filled with hope, and you felt uplifted and excited (we love “new” things!).
Motivation and willpower are initially high; however, before long “real life” kicks in… a sleepless night or two, a devastating phone call, a last minute mandatory lunch meeting that negatively impacts your plan, a frantic morning that leads to forgetting gym shoes or your green salad, and bit by bit, your plan deteriorates. Emotional state drops… things start feeling hard, willpower depletes, motivation tanks, and by day seven (if we’re lucky to get that far) we land right back into old habits.
This scenario is so common and I’ve definitely experienced it myself.
High achievers like to stretch, grow and accomplish hard things. We like to set the bar high and see what we can do. In the habit arena though, it’s more effective to be like water and apply the One Degree Rule to your habit strategy.
If you forget the power of “easy”, remember the power of ONE degree.
When it comes to goals and visions, keep them lofty and thrilling. When it comes to habits, go for boring, doable and easy.
Some daily one degree habit examples:
- Fitness: place runners/gym bag by front door; commit to two minutes at the gym; lace up your runners; walk to the end of the block.
- Nutrition: aim to eat something green at least once/day; keep a water cup with reusable straw at your desk, so you drink more.
- Mindfulness: journal one sentence per day; meditate for 2 minutes.
- Joy: soak in one blissful moment of genuine gratitude; delight in a simple pleasure.
The opposite is also helpful. In the case of replacing “bad” habits, make the habit harder or more inconvenient to do.
Some one degree examples to increase the difficulty of “bad” habits:
- If you want to curb refined simple carbs, store bread in your freezer; store the toaster in your pantry.
- If you want to enhance productivity, delete the time-wasting apps from your phone like social media, news or games.
- If you want to eat less sugar, store sweets out of sight and far from reach, rather than in easy-to-access places like candy bowls in your office or cookie jars in the kitchen; make it a rule that you can have pop or dessert, but not at home.
- If you want to procrastinate less, remove distractions or yourself from your distractions; turn your phone off and/or charge it in another room; keep your tv remote control in less handy/accessible space.
Notice that with all of the above examples you can still access each “bad” habit, but need to take a few extra steps to do so. As we like ease and immediacy, often this minor inconvenience is all we need to disrupt our pattern and make a more goal-aligned choice.
How might this look in your life?
- What’s my compelling vision, deep desire, or exciting goal?
- Out of all the habits that would help me get there, which ONE would I like to work on and master in Q1 of 2020?
- What ONE degree action steps could I take towards this habit? (Make it so easy, that you couldn’t fail on even your hardest day.)
- If there is a “bad” habit you’re trying to replace, what steps could you take to make it less convenient/more difficult to perform?
See what comes up, and then test your decision out by then noticing your level of confidence to execute DAILY.
- What confident are you that you can do this daily? If you’re anything lower than a 9/10, strip it down further.
- Make it easier until you become unstoppable!