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Start with the end in mind

Vaseline 2 months ago

It’s ironic that I’m having trouble writing this week’s column on forming good habits because I get distracted by Googling this and that, responding to a few emails, signing up for barre classes during my visit to NC, practicing a dialogue I need to have with the board of directors regarding expenditures – and the list goes on.

While I would like to say that it is easy to create a new habit, according to a study on habit creation published by the European Journal of Social Psychology discovered that habits develop over a period of 18 to 254 days. Study participants reported that it took them an average of 66 days to reliably form a new habit: eating a piece of fruit with lunch, drinking a bottle of water with lunch, or running for 15 minutes before dinner. Consistent daily repetition had the greatest impact on whether a behavior would become part of an automatic routine.

Just like saving money, the compounding effect of hundreds of small decisions can make a world of difference in forming habits. Making just small changes can yield remarkable results.

Here’s a six-part approach to forming good habits.

Set a goal. What do you want to see after 60 days of following your new habit? How do you know when you’ll get there if you don’t know where you’re going? Try setting a measurable goal: lose five pounds, stop biting your nails, put some money aside, call your mom. Stephen Covey said it for us: begin with the end in mind.

Accumulate your habits. Experts say there is one way to… A new habit is linked to an existing habit. Look for patterns in your daily life and think about how you can use existing habits/routines to create new positive ones. For example, maybe you have a strong morning routine. That can be a place to build a new habit. Maybe it’s doing a few stretches in bed before getting up, or practicing your balance by standing on one leg or doing a few squats while you brush your teeth.

Start small and do it every day. The lesson here is that habits take a long time to create, and they will form faster the more we do them. So, instead of trying to do three barre classes a week, remember to start small, like taking a brisk five-minute walk, doing two yoga poses, or one push-up. Think of the money-in-the-bank effect.

Making it easy. Reduce the friction, clear the obstacles. Face it: if it’s hard to do, you probably won’t do it. The author of Good habits, bad habits: the science of making positive changes that stick, calls the forces that get in the way of good habits “friction.” Researchers in one study changed the timing of elevator doors so that workers had to wait nearly 30 seconds for the doors to close. (The doors normally closed after 10 seconds.) It was enough of a delay to convince many people that taking the stairs was easier than waiting for the elevator. “It shows how sensitive we are to small frictions in our environment,” says the author. “Just slowing down the elevator caused people to take the stairs, and they continued to do so even after the elevator returned to its normal timing.”

The author notes that marketers are already experts at reducing friction, causing us to spend more money or order more food. For example, Amazon has a “one-click” button, and fast food companies make it easy to expand. We are easily influenced by the way things are organized in marketing and often exploited, but becoming more aware of how to reduce friction in our lives may put us on the path to developing great habits.

Reward yourself. Don’t judge yourself and set your expectations appropriately. Keep in mind that it takes anywhere from two months to almost a year to form a habit, and it may take longer for the fruits of the habit to become apparent, such as weight loss. Be kind to yourself, don’t judge yourself harshly, and keep your expectations in check. Slow and steady wins the race. Focus on the work and the reward will come. If you started with the end in mind, you will wake up in the right place.

Feel free to share your thoughts with me: [email protected].

Ashton Graham is a teacher, book publisher, photographer, cowgirl and yoga teacher. If you are interested in “Maintaining Balance,” visit www.ashtoncannon.com to subscribe to my newsletter.