Today I want to share with you three techniques that I use when I am either trying to banish a bad habit or looking to form a good habit. When I’ve read things on the topic before, they often tell you to reinforce the positive message behind why you are looking to change. They suggest you write these reasons down to really re-affirm your aspirations. However, anytime I have failed to change has not been because of a lack of conviction. It is usually because I forget that I am trying to make a change, which is easy to do in our busy lives.
I’ll give you an example. When I first tried to take up meditation, I downloaded the Headspace app with zeal, meditated for three days and loved it. Did I carry on? Nope. I ended up completely forgetting about it. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, or that I found it too difficult. I simply forgot to stop practicing.
There’s a concept called ‘decision fatigue’, which is essentially the notion that decision quality deteriorates throughout the day, having been faced with making decisions all day long. This means we want to limit unnecessary decisions as much as possible to prevent decision fatigue. You are unlikely to make a good decision, if you have been making numerous other decisions all day. I’ll show you how I prevent decision fatigue as much as possible through automation, environment and self awareness.
I love automating things. It completely eliminates any chance of making a bad decision. When you are looking to break or form a new habit, first think ‘how can I automate this?’. It can’t always be done, but if it can, you only have to decide once and then you can completely forget about it – thus avoiding decision fatigue.
Recently, I have been learning a lot about the negative effects of ‘Electromagnetic Fields’ (EMFs), particularly WIFI. So, I decided I was going to start switching off my router before I went to bed, so at least while I was asleep I was getting a break from WIFI radiation for eight hours. The first couple of days went great, but then on the third day I forgot to switch it off. The fourth day I remembered, but then on the fifth day I forgot again. I realised a pattern was a forming so I needed to try automate this. So, I decided to buy a plug timer. Now, I simply have my router plugged into a timer that switches off at 22:00 and comes back on at 06:00. I now never need to think about WIFI again. I made the decision to sleep with my router off. I automated it in one step. It can now be forgotten about.
If you can’t quite automate, then think about semi-automating. When I decided to get healthy and I really start focussing on nutrition, I was getting so sick of tired of constantly cooking and cleaning. It literally felt never ending. I then finally decided to choose two evenings per week to cook all my meals for the week ahead. This meant that I only had to think about food twice a week. The rest of the time I simply go to the fridge and grab a nutritious meal! No longer was it possible to make unhealthy decisions as all the good decisions were there right in front of me! I am about to take this to another level by employing someone who can come in and prepare my meals and do some cleaning, freeing up my time so I can use it more effectively. It may seem like an expense but the hours I gain back in my life are being put to better use.
Your environment plays a big part in your habits, particularly as not everything can be automated quite so easily. Jake spoke about this in a great post ‘10 ways to get less distracted by Facebook’. I check Facebook way too often so I have this installed Freedom, which blocks naughty sites, on my computer and I deleted the app from my mobile. By changing my environment I have broken the habit.
Sometimes, changing your environment needs to be a little more drastic. I’ve made some big life changes in the past couple of years and it began by having to physically move to another town. I had ambitions to set up a business and I realised I was never going to do this while I was partying hard in London. I moved back to my home town as I knew I wouldn’t be so easily distracted. Having spent a few years outside of the city I have managed to build a business, quit my drinking habit and have got back on track to living a healthy life. I now feel my new habits are so ingrained that I could move back to London and not fall into the same trap as before.
Sometimes it can be difficult to look around and realise that your environment is harming you as it is natural to feel fearful about making change. However, I will say that your new environment very quickly becomes the norm, sometimes within a week. I used to watch copious amounts of TV, so I decided I would head back to my office after the gym rather than going straight home and spend a bit of time doing some more work. Within a week I completely forgot the TV exists and now it pretty much only gets switched on on the weekends. Better still, do what Jake does and don’t even have one in the house!
Becoming self aware is absolutely vital with many habits. How often do you forget you’re doing your bad habit? This concept is not new, think back to ‘swear jars’. The idea wasn’t to raise money for charity, it was to make you self aware of how much you swear every time you had to put a coin in the jar. There aren’t many people that carry on swearing when they see how many times a day they have to part ways with their money!
One really terrible habit I had for years was checking my phone while I was driving. I am ashamed to admit that I have been penalised twice for being on the phone while driving. I am not a bad person and I know the risks associated with it. So why was I persistently checking my phone? Quite simply, I forgot I shouldn’t be doing it. After I got my second fine and penalty points I realised something had to change. I soon discovered an app called ‘Focus’. This works really well. As soon as you check your phone while in motion, it starts speaking to you in a very annoying voice, reminding you that you shouldn’t be checking your phone. As soon as my phone started talking, I realised what I was doing and would put my phone down. It only took a week to completely stop unconsciously reaching for my phone. A habit of 5 years broken in 5 days! This is the power of self awareness.
I recently heard Ari Meisel give a talk at the Biohacker Summit in Helsinki and he touched on this topic. He mentioned a great app, called ‘IFTTT’. You simply create a button in the app, that you can press and it will then log the event into pretty much any form you require – spreadsheets/evernote/email etc. He used this to break his sugar addiction. Whenever he got a craving, he pressed the button and it would log the time and date in a spreadsheet. He soon noticed a pattern. He was consuming sugar between 16:00-19:00, which was when his kids came home from school. Once he became self aware of this, he was able to realise this was his risk timings, so as long as he avoided sugar during those three hours, he wasn’t going to consume any sugar at all.
Habits, making or breaking them, can be pretty scary things. As long as you don’t just dive into it and instead take the time to sit back, reflect and build an action plan you will conquer anything. They say people can’t change. I don’t believe this for a second. Try to eliminate the decision making and you’ll be on the right path.