Making lifestyle changes can be the most rewarding experience when done properly. Whether you are trying to get more organized, get fitter or make more money, we all reach a point in which we realize we have to change something to live a better life. Although these changes can feel daunting, there are tons of resources out there to help us do it.
Helping people make healthy changes is part of what I do, but I also use all the techniques first and foremost on myself to A) see if they actually work, and B) get a sense of what's out there. I've read a lot of books on psychology and how to change our habits, and the following three are my personal favourite.
Here is a quick summary of them along with my favourite quotes/takeaways.
Book 1: Atomic Habits, James Clear
This book gives you clear and actionable steps to make long lasting changes. It spends just enough time on the science aspect of changing for you to understand how things work, and spends a lot of time giving practical advice.
The author states that we are a product of our habits, which are our solutions to our day to day problems. Our habits shape who we are, and who we are reinforces our habits. It's a feedback system to ensure we go through life as easily as possible. We all know that the easy way is not the always the best way, and thankfully this feedback system can be modified. First we need to understand what is a habit.
A habit is a four step process:
The cue is what triggers your brain to think "oh hey I have to do this"
The craving is whether or not you want to do that action
The response is the actual action performed
The reward is the satisfaction we get out of doing the action
The whole book explains different strategies to impact each of these steps. I will use going to the gym as an example but you can use the following strategies with any habit you are starting.
To influence the cueing, make it obvious. If the new habit your want to develop is going to the gym, put your gym shoes in front of your front door or somewhere else where you see them easily. The more your brain sees your shoes (or whatever else reminds you of the gym) the more it'll normalize going there.
You can also set implementation of intentions at the beginning of each week. This is basically putting down in writing what you plan on doing. Being as precise as possible leads to more adherence. "I will go to the gym on Tuesday at 6pm after work" is much cleared than "I will workout this week"
To influence the craving, make the habit attractive. Why would you want to go to the gym? You can use a strategy called temptation bundling which means that you use your current habits to reinforce the new one. For example you could combine watching a Netflix show with doing a quick home workout.
To make a habit more attractive you can also modify your environment. Joining a gym, or a fitness studio where you are surrounded by people who workout makes working out easier because it is this environment's norm.
To influence the response make it as easy as possible. You want to eliminate as much friction between you and the desired action. Feeling too tired to go workout? Just go there a do the warm up. Too anxious to step in the gym? Just drive there and go home. Feeling too tired to workout at home? Just do 10 squats on the spot. Don't want to do 10 squat? Just do one. The toughest part of the response step is to actually start it. By "making is so easy that you feel silly saying no" you increase the odds of you actually doing the action
To influence the reward, make it satisfying. One of the most gratifying feeling is noticing that we are making progress towards our goals. To make habits more satisfying, the author recommends using a habit score card so you can visualize your progress. I can already hear people think "Why can't I just reward myself with a nice snack after a workout". The problem with that is that we don't actually want a rewarding snack, we want comfort food after a tough time and it is just a short term reward. A habit scorecard nurtures a desire for delayed gratification, which is essential in all long term goals.
Favourite ideas from the book:
- It is the accumulation of small 1% improvements which result over time in significant improvement.
- There is a critical threshold to cross before your new behaviour yields any results. Before that threshold is what the author calls a "Valley of disappointment" in which you are doing all the right things but not seeing results. You could be in this valley for months, even years. In my experience this is where 99% of people who want to lose weight give up.
- Goals are for setting a direction but it is your processes that will help you make progress
- You identity is a result of your habits
- When you are about to do (or not do) something, ask yourself "Does this behaviour help me become the type of person I want to be?"
- It is the anticipation of rewards, not the fulfillme