I often ask myself the question, almost as a form of meditation: “how can I become a better person? What changes can I make to improve myself?”
As 2020 started, you might have made New Year resolutions – the grand promises you make to yourself to improve. We know that these changes can often end up discarded after the first few weeks. But why?
I recently listened to a great audiobook about this sort of thing that has really helped me: Atomic Habits by James Clear*. If you haven’t heard of it already, I highly recommend it. In this book the author discusses the power of habits and how they shape who we are, how we approach changes, and what we can do to get the best from ourselves. Here are a few of the ideas that I’ve found useful:
This is the main idea behind the whole book and sounds like great advice. Many of us aim for big changes. We go on crash diets after overindulging, or go from being sedentary to hitting the gym as hard as we can…And when we don’t see quick results, we give up and feel defeated.
If you want to make changes that last, don’t go for huge goals. Start with small, manageable steps and develop a system for completing this. If you improve things by just 1% a day (or even a week) this still adds up over time and can be life changing.
If you want to be a writer, for example, it would be better to schedule a few minutes in your day to write one page, or even one paragraph, every day and stick to it…than to start with the goal of writing the whole book as quickly as you can, become overwhelmed and not write again.
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” James Clear (2018)
A really important point is that our habits are closely linked to our identity. So ask yourself: “how do I see myself?”
If, for example, you tell yourself and others that you’re a lazy person, or someone who doesn’t like change, this will effect your motivation and can become self-fulfilling.
If you view yourself as a healthy person who enjoys a challenge, you are more likely to make choices and develop habits that reinforce this. So a good way to change your habits is to work on how you talk to, and perceive yourself. A good way to do this is too…
We don’t function very well on negatives. What this means is…if you tell yourself things like “I want to stop being lazy”, or “I want to stop wasting money”, you are telling yourself what you don’t want.
But what do you want? Consider statements like “I want to be healthier” or “I want to look after my money”. They’re more positive and are more to do with who you are or who you want to be. Once you figure this out, you need to…
In order to change, you need to identify the habits you already have; you need to do a ‘habit audit’. For example, if your goal is to increase physical activity, or to eat more healthily, you need to look at the specifics. Plot out a typical day. What are you eating that’s unhealthy? What are the times of the day that your least active and have a choice?
From this you can look at the choices that you make and how they fit in with your values. You can then look at what you want to change as necessary.
Whatever changes you want to make, if you want it to become a habit, you need to be as specific as possible. This links back to the first point of starting small, as, once you have a specific change in mind, you can look at the incremental steps necessary.
How I’ve applied this
So, as an example, one of the habits that I want to work on is the amount of screen time I have – particularly my mobile (cell) phone as, like most people, it’s become a bit of an addiction. So I needed to look at what this actually meant.
By doing a habit audit I’ve figured out that the times of the day I use it most, and feel most guilty about, are first thing in the morning, and when I come home at night.
I’ve figured that my phone affects how I interact with my family and doesn’t set a good example to my son…(something I value highly). So, to frame this positively, “I want to spend more time engaging properly with my family” and, in terms of my identity, “I’m a good father who leads by example” so reducing screen time is inline with this.
So, to start small, I’m going to try to remember to leave my phone in another room at meal times. It’s not a total ban. I’m just reducing the time a bit. I’m also marking on the calendar every day that I do this so I can keep track of this. So far…so good! 🙂
*I have no affiliation in any way with the author. I just really enjoyed the book, which is filled with great ways to change our habits, and wanted to share this! I also think if we all make small, positive changes each day, great things could happen. 🙂
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