The Very First Steps Of Changing Your Habits


Jun 7, 2021

 by Morgan Fontaine
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Habits don’t seem like a big deal. They’re tiny things you don’t even think about most of the time, things you just do regularly. They’re not a big deal until you’re stuck and can’t get to the person you want to be or accomplish the things you want to accomplish. Then they can be a real pain in the butt. So I want to share with you the information that has helped me the most with changing my habits.

 

There are 3 types of habits, effective, neutral, and ineffective. Like James Clear says: When we have ineffective habits we’re repeating 1% errors, day after day, by replicating poor decisions, duplicating tiny mistakes, and rationalizing little excuses, our small choices compound into toxic results. It’s the accumulation of many missteps-a 1% decline here and there-that eventually leads to a problem. You get what you repeat, your results are a direct representation of your habits. I know these things and yet I still struggle to break my ineffective habits, and I’m sure you struggle too-not because we are the problem. Bad habits don’t repeat themselves over and over because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for that change.

 

The key here is your identity. Your behaviors are usually a reflection of your identity. What you do is an indicator of the type of person you believe that you are-whether you realize it or not. And once you have adopted an identity, it can be easy to let your commitment to it impact your ability to change it. Many people walk through life blind, unaware of the habits that make them them, including myself.

 

I’ll use a few examples of some sentences I have and still tell myself, which contribute to my identity:

-”I don’t like eating.”

-”I’m bad at drinking water.”

-”I’m not a morning person.”

-”I’m bad at remembering to go to bed on time.”

-”I’m addicted to my phone.”

 

When you tell yourself these things over and over it’s easy to believe them, and believe that they can never be changed. And the more you believe them the more you tie it to your identity and eventually, you begin resisting certain actions because “that’s not who I am.” Internally you must fulfill those beliefs by behaving in a certain way and continuing with those ineffective habits. The more deeply a thought is tied to your identity, the harder it is to change it. And that’s the tricky part of changing a habit. It’s not as easy as saying “I’ll just stop doing that” or “I’ll just start doing this.”

 

If nothing changes, nothing is going to change. So how do we change ineffective habits that aren’t serving us? It’s a 2 step process:

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be at any level. As an individual, as a team, as a community, as a nation. Ask yourself “Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want?” For example, who is the type of person who could lose 40lbs? Who is the type of person who could run a half marathon?
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins. Once you have the type of person you want to be, you can begin taking small steps to reinforce your desired identity. An example James Clear uses in his book, Atomic Habits: ”I have a friend who lost over 100 pounds by asking herself, “What would a healthy person do?” All day long she would use this question as a guide. Would a healthy person walk or take a cab? Would a healthy person order a burrito or a salad? She figured if she acted like a healthy person she would become one. She was right.”

 

Next, James Clear says to go through your daily habits and decide if they are effective or ineffective at getting you to be your desired self. Make a list of all of your everyday habits. Ask yourself “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit get me closer or further away from my desired identity?”  Put a + for effective habits, - for ineffective habits, and = for neutral habits. The goal of this step is to identify and become aware. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know…

 

Your list may start like this:

Wake up=

Turn off alarm=

Check my phone-

Brush teeth+

Put clothes on=

Do hair and makeup=

Eat breakfast+

Plan out my day+

Get coffee-

Get to work+

...And you go through your entire day.

 

For me, I want to be the type of person that cares about their own happiness, health, and well being. I have gone through my entire day and identified the habits that don’t serve my desired self. Here are the ones I’m currently working on:

  1. Buying and drinking coffee regularly-gets expensive, takes time away from other things I could be doing, caffeine heightens anxiety in me. Yet I do it because it's a quick pick me up.
  2. Depriving myself of water-dehydrates me which usually leads to fatigue, headaches, weakened immunity, dry skin, irritability, etc. Yet I do it because it gives me a sense of control.
  3. Sleeping less than 8hrs-makes me cranky, less patient, less motivated, and less focused. Yet I do it because it means I can watch more mindless TV and “zone out.”
  4. Scrolling on my phone way more than I should-I use it as an “out”-a way to distract myself from having important convos with my bf, friends, bosses, etc. Or to distract myself from uncomfortable feelings or thoughts that are necessary for me to process to get better. Also not great for my eyes/migraines. Takes time away from important things that I enjoy or need-like sleeping, having important convos, reading, learning, etc. Yet I do it because it distracts me in the moment.

 

Think about all this information and identify who you want to be, go through your days and list/rate all of your current habits, and figure out which ones should stay and which should go to get to your desired self. These are the very first steps. If you want to really dive into this I  would definitely recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear. His book helped me a lot and he really dives into this stuff. You can get his book here. Let me know if this was useful to you and if you’d like more help with developing more effective habits.

 

-Morgan