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Change Your Habits, Change Your Life

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This little riddle has come up in no less than three different books I have read recently…so let me ask you?

Five frogs sit on a lily pad.

One decided to jump off.

How many are left?

How many frogs are left on the lily pad?  Did you do the math and come up with four frogs left?  Unfortunately math isn’t the right tool for this problem.  The answer is five.  One frog “decided” to jump off.  He didn’t actually DO anything.

What I have seen in myself and clients is that this is where many of us get ourselves into trouble.  We read a lot, think a lot, analyze a lot, talk a lot, say we’re going to “try”, but don’t actually take the necessary action steps on a consistent basis.  Action is required for change.  We know this, but we sometimes mistake all this reading, analyzing, thinking, etc for taking action steps towards our goals.  At some point we have to actually implement and test what we've been reading about. 

Or there are the quick fix solutions that are sold to us at every turn, leaving us thinking we should be able to transform almost overnight.  So sometimes we go about overhauling our world in a grand gesture that leaves us exhausted, sets us up for failure, and ends in us going back to our comfort zones, abandoning our goals altogether. ..for now, at least until we get the courage and energy up to go at it again.

What I’m proposing today is something that has helped me and others tremendously:  changing simple daily habits, consistently over time.   All of our goals require consistent action.  Most of our lives are a reflection of our habits.  Change is all about our consistent actions, our habits.  No drama, it’s just a habit.  We have habits that empower us and others that hinder us.  You’re not a bad person, weak, undisciplined (all negative habits of thought by the way).  Your habit isn’t you, it’s just a behavior.  That's it.  There are some behaviors that you want to keep, others that you want to change by replacing them with a behavior that better serves you.  It helps to know the pay-offs we're getting from a bad habit, and then we can come up with ways to meet that need with healthier habits.  

And most of us can’t change every habit we have at once, it is just too much. 

This can’t be stressed enough:  what we do on a consistent basis determines whether we reach our goals.  Our habits can either serve us, or hinder us.  It really comes down to the small daily habits we cultivate each day.

Here is what has helped me tremendously – focusing on building a few habits at a time, until they become something I do without really thinking about it.  I and others have written a lot about setting goals and developing good habits.  So I’m not going to try to rehash all of that here.  What I want to share here is a simple, actionable approach.  Holding myself accountable, and tracking in a simple way is what has made all the difference for me.

I am using and recommend an app on my iPad called “Goal Streaks” (or find something similar that works for you).   It is a very simple, straight forward app that lets me see how I’m doing and keeps the habits I want to cultivate at the forefront of my focus.  Here are examples of habits in my Goal Streaks app:

I have a larger goal/value for me to be healthy, strong and fit so I can do all the outdoor activities I love to do, age well, feel great and look my best.  The habits I’m cultivating and tracking in Goal streaks are:

  • Be strong and fit by exercising 6 days a week for at least 30 minutes.
  • Close the kitchen at 8pm so I burn more fat at night
  • Reach my goal weight by eating Paleo and staying within my calories each day
  • Get my beauty sleep by getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night.

All I do is tap on the ones I do each day and I can see how I’m doing.  I kick ass at exercising 6 days a week for at least 30 minutes.  I think I keep it on there because it makes me feel good about having that one down!  But I totally suck at closing the kitchen at 8pm.  Haven’t gotten a decent streak going on that one yet.  It may be that I eventually reassess whether that’s right for me.  Maybe it becomes I eat only what I plan to have as a snack at night.  Or that I close the kitchen at 8pm 3 times a week and build from there, if it makes sense to.  You can use the awareness you gain through this process to tweak and tune as necessary for you.  And this is where I should point out that my "eat Paleo" habit actually started as smaller daily habits; things like cut back on dairy, limit sugar, eat real food, have a cup of hot tea a few nights a week instead of that glass (or two) of wine, etc.  It took me awhile to get to where I could just say "eat Paleo" and that not be an overwhelming number of changes at once for me.  In the past, I've had the very bad habit of all or nothing thinking.  Thinking that I had to do everything at once or not at all, and then giving up when it was all too much.  Start small!  

I have done something similar for each area of my life, habits I want to cultivate that are tied to my goals/life values.  There are small actionable items tied to my work, relationships, spiritual growth, mental growth/learning, and creativity.

The catch with all this though is that this is the turtle approach.  All of these things build on each other over time.   This isn’t a quick fix.  It’s a lasting one though.  The hare raced ahead, goofed off and was all over the place…way flashier than the consistent step by step of the turtle.  But we all know the smart, consistent turtle won in the end.

As you’re thinking about what you want in 2014, I hope you’ll keep all this in mind.  The pursuit of our goals is meant to make us feel good and live more fully on a daily basis.  The joy is in the journey.  Please keep it simple.  And PLEASE don’t be so hard on yourself…it’s just a behavior you want to change, not some kind of inherent flaw.

How do you go about changing your habits?  What tools or tips can you share?

If you would like some additional information on how I can help you reach your goals and have fun in the process, please contact me for a complimentary coaching session here.