It is no crime to better yourself. In all of us is a deep-seated desire to become a better version of ourselves and what better time than January 1st
At the start of last year, in response to social peer pressure( Thanks Instagram) I drafted a list of resolutions…it went something like this
- Wake up at 5 am every morning
- Read the Bible & pray every day
- Eat more fruits & vegetables
- Work out the 1st thing every morning for at least 3 times a week
- Save more money
- Give out at least 50% of our income to charity
- Go for a date night with Gathoni every week
- Make more time for family & friends
- Meditate for at least 10mins every day
- Practice gratitude every morning and evening
As January came to a slow end, I realized to my horror that I did none of what I had intended to accomplish with my year. Good intentions notwithstanding, I had done none of these things for more than 5 days in a row. My life sucked and I hated to admit that I was such a sordid loser. So, what went wrong? Wasn’t my deep desire for change sufficient? I had (in my childish thoughts) paid the piper, I was suppose to call the proverbial tune. I decided to dig deeper to try unearth what was the secret to lasting change
Don’t Make Resolutions, Make Habits
I realized that despite all my valiant efforts, my mind was sabotaging me 🙁 dragging me to old me, while I struggled to launch the remixed, 2.0 version of me. Domiciled in my sub-conscience were some programs hard-wired in my brain, and this took precedence without even caring to ask me for permission. The silent culprit was my habits
The brain would simply detonate if it had to make a decision about every minute detail of my life, thus my brain came up with a simple way to program my routine behavior. So, whenever I repeated an action, my brain began saving patterns and similarities. For example, every time I grabbed my phone, my right thumbed landed automatically on Instagram or that tiny blue bird icon. I was a junky, hooked on to a monster, I never knew existed. My life was ruled by my habits, they laughed at my intention & will power.
The simple reason why my resolutions never worked was that the habits that I had spent years building & perfecting were in conflict with my current desires. So, how are these so-called habits formed?…there’s something called a habit loop.
The Habit Loop
Every time I got hungry (CUE) I would go to the fridge, open it and look for something to much on (ROUTINE). I found out through trial and error that the more the calories the tastier the snack. Thus, I would reach for that leftover cake, ice cream or bread, and my hunger would be instantly satisfied (REWARD)
Other times, I decided to limit my cellular screen time…but once I heard that familiar buzz from a notification (CUE) my hand would automatically grab my phone, unlock it and click on the notification (ROUTINE). I would then be REWARDED by a new DM, text, Whatsapp or comment. My brain craved this routine and this was then (unbeknownst to me) hard-wired as a habit.
Every habit that we have was as a result of a cue/trigger then a routine which resulted in some reward. Both good and bad. This is what is called AUTOMATICITY. The human brain automates any routine behavior and saves the thinking brain for more serious stuff. Makes sense now why most people always put on one shoe (either left o write) first, pay attention next time :). What used to be difficult to execute before (Like typing on a computer), becomes easier with time as your brain forms it into a habit.
Hacking into your Habits
So how do you ensure that you turn your resolutions into habits and automate good habits…I saw this 3 ways
a) Use the Habit loop to your Advantage
If you want to drink more water, set an alarm or use those hydration apps as a cue. Every time it goes off, drink the water and you get the rewards of better metabolism, skin, and energy
I noticed that if you want to work out every morning, set out your work out clothes the night before next to your bed (CUE). You can also buy those traditional bedside clocks to go off at 5 am every morning so that your brain can associate the alarm ring to the routine. Next, literally jump out of bed at the 1st ring & work out (ROUTINE) and the rush you get will be part of your reward. I also take a bottle of water every time I finish just as a reward.
b) The Art of Repetition
Some of the most successful people in the world (Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg) use the art of repetition to keep themselves from decision fatigue. Thus they save their brain for only the most important stuff (World-changing decisions). So, they wear the same kind of outfit every day, use the exact same route to work daily, take the same breakfast at the same spot, same time every day. Basically, they use the power of habit to program the mundane everyday tasks we do, so that they free their brain cells, to do the most important job to them, i.e. think.
For example, if you are like me & you want to read more books, then pick a specific time of day (Say 8pm), specific quiet spot in the house then read there every day…till it becomes automatic. It takes anywhere from 60-90 days of repetition to result in automaticity. Thus do it every day, the very same way, till it sticks.
Download & print this Habit Tracker template HERE Print at least 3 copies and track your habit for at least 90 days. In case you miss a day, do not fret yourself silly, it does not work like Antibiotics :). Keep doing it until it sticks
c) Bad habits gone Good
What if you want to change a bad habit? Like snacking on high-calorie foods? Simple, here’s the hack
The sad truth is that you cannot stop a bad habit, you can only replace it. The simplest way to do it is to keep the cue & reward the same, and just change the routine. In case you have a bad habit, the best way would be to note down every time you get the craving for it. Note the time, location and how you feel. Then try come up with different methods (routines) of dealing with the craving so that you can isolate the actual cue. It’s normally not the obvious one. Once you find a replacement method (Chose a good/healthy routine) that gives you the same reward/feeling then you have hit success.
A good example is that if your bad habit is snacking on the wrong foods, start trying out different routines to satisfy the desire to snack. After your research, if you discover that your cue is boredom, then do some research to identify a new routine. Ensure that every time you get bored (CUE) get up and do an activity or eat some nuts, till you get the same reward as snacking. At least you have a healthier routine.
Books to Read
In case you want to read more about habits and how much they affect what we do, I would recommend any of these books. I have hyperlinked them on Amazon. Locally you can look for them here.
- The Power of Habit -Charles Duhigg
- The 5 AM Club: Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life by Robin Sharma
- Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick by Wendy Wood
Thanks for the long read…let me know in the comments what you think. God bless and God speed in this new year