A few days ago I wrote about the power of habits that increase your productivity and now I am suggesting that you break the cycle of habits. But in fact, these two concepts actually go together much better than it might appear at first glance.
Creating new habits is always first about changing old behavior: there is no space for something new when all of the “old” is still intact. But so often we cling to the old and familiar while trying to do something new and different and then we are surprised that we are not able to succeed with the new goal.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, blogs were a means for individuals to share their personal thoughts and journeys in a journal-style format. Often they were kept private, but some were shared. And as journals were shared with the public, strangers found kindred spirits that they would have never met otherwise. This was the power of the blog: support, accountability and friendship via the ether. Goals were placed on public display, helping the goal-setter to be more accountable, no longer just to themselves, but to their band of followers.
So I return to the old ways, placing my thoughts and challenges out on public display, confident that others struggle with similar issues.
Stopping the insanity of recurring behavior is not difficult in terms of knowing what needs to be done, and it is not hard to describe. What is difficult is the actual implementation of the change. Even folks who embrace change (I consider myself one of these people) find that implementing change is challenging. The unknown has risk and risk can be scary. But if we are going to do it, we have to start somewhere. So this will be the beginning of a series of posts discussing the process and implementation of breaking an old cycle of habits and beginning something new. We will start with an overview of the steps required to break the behavior cycle and then create a post to focus on each step in the sequence. The steps will discuss the goals, the challenges and my observations through the process. My hope is that my experiences will help others and that possibly a few of you will join me along the way! As I stated before, the steps and descriptions are rather simple; the implementation of them is where the challenge lies.
Define the Goal
The first step is to decide what the new behavior, habit or activity is going to be. There are two schools of thought on this and both have pros and cons. One process focuses on making small incremental changes — a small goal, a tiny step, an easier change resulting in a quicker victory. The other version has you change “everything” – all behaviors are intertwined and only by changing many aspects can the patterns truly be changed. I think either can be right and will explore this more in my next post.
Determine the Sacrifice
The next step is to determine what activities, behaviors or habits need to be stopped or modified to make “space” for the new. This choice is related strongly to the first step. If the new activity will take you an hour to do, then you have to give up an hour that you’re currently using for some other activity. In addition, you have to consider what behaviors are tied together. For instance, if you only smoke when you go out to a bar, giving up smoking my also mean giving up going out to bars.
Develop a Support System
The third step is one of the most important steps in the process: create a support and accountability system. For each person and/or behavior this will look different. Sometimes it will be an individual who supports you in your goal; other times it will be a group. It may include a reward system or success might be its own reward. Regardless, very few people are successful when they go it alone. Change is difficult and having a support structure in place can often be the difference between success and failure.
Measure the Process
The next step is to define quantifiable, measurable results for your goal. These results should include dates and incremental goals to reach along the way. Give yourself time for in-progress evaluation so you can keep track of your journey. Just because we slip for a day, week or month, doesn’t mean that we have to give up. However, without setting up measurement points along the way, we often get too far off the new path resulting in the need to start the process over back at the beginning.
Plan for the Recovery
The saying “old habits die hard” is true because habits are wired into our brains. Developing a new pattern requires us to purposefully shut an old one down. However there are a number of triggers that can cause us to “reset” back into our old ways, even when we believe we have changed. Knowing that it is very likely this will happen and having a plan to recover from it will make the detour shorter and less difficult to overcome. The good news? The more it happens, the quicker we will get through the recovery stage and eventually the new path will become the established one.