As part of last week’s Friday Fundamental, adapting to change, we discussed constant improvement with daily habits.
This week we’ll expand on that piece a bit more in detail and look at how you can create new habits in your life starting today. There is no shortage of great content out there when it comes to habits. As mentioned last week, Charles Duhigg and James Clear have both written great books on the subjects. Researchers such as BJ Fogg of Stanford’s Behavior Design Lab and others have studied human behavior and psychology. Jim Kwik has studied and dissected the mind in an effort to unlock our true potential. Nothing I say will compare to the work each of these people have done, but I’ll do my best to relay some of the interesting things they’ve taught millions of people, including me, and share with you how you too can engineer the lifestyle you want starting with habits.
Jim Kwik, in his book, Limitless, talks about the importance of what he calls S3 – simple small steps. By taking a bigger goal and breaking it into smaller manageable action steps, we’re able to progress towards that goal without letting the fear of such a daunting task prevent us from ever getting started. These simple small steps, over time, become habits. Habits compounded over time can create extraordinary results.
To show the power of habits, Jim references a famous study called the Zeigarnik Effect. Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeiganarik studied a phenomenon noticed by her professor of wait staff at a local restaurant. Her professor noticed that wait staff at the busy restaurant were able to keep track of customers’ orders even while managing the many other tasks he or she is responsible for. Interruptions, other customers, and the chaos of the restaurant didn’t seem to create any confusion. However, after the order was placed and completed, the wait staff no longer remembered the details of the order. This seems counterintuitive. How can one remember specific details amidst interruptions, yet forget those details afterward? Zeiganarik and her professor set out to study this strange occurrence. What they found was that a task that has been started, but not finished, creates a tension in the mind, which improves the cognitive recollection of that event. If you think about this in your own life, you’ll likely recognize the feeling.
Think to a time when you’ve procrastinated something – maybe a school assignment, a work deadline, etc. You tell yourself you’ll do it later, it will only take a short period of time, seemingly countless other reasons your mind can conjure up that will allow you to postpone said action. The result though, as you may be familiar with, is your mind is constantly reminding you of that thing you’re procrastinating. You’re unable to enjoy whatever it is you’re doing because your mind is in constant tension reminding you of that thing you’re putting off. It’s only when the action we’ve procrastinated is completed that our mind let’s go of that tension (and then on to the next thing). Psychologists believe this is why, in part, we feel guilty about procrastination. Given enough time to procrastinate that amount of tension can build and make us resent the task that much more, and cause you to not enjoy your current state.
The solution? Well, don’t procrastinate would be the end all be all, but hey, we’re only human so let’s look at some more practical ways to deal with this dilemma we all face at times.
In all likelihood, that thing we put off isn’t as big as we make it out to seem. The biggest hurdle is just taking that first step and getting started.
Let’s take an example of reading. Whether it’s for school, work, personal study, or leisure. You have a book you should/have to read. But here you are on a beautiful weekend day, with so many other things you would rather be doing. As humans our tendency is to put off that burdensome task of reading and go enjoy the countless other things we would rather be doing. You look at that book and it looks daunting – hundreds of pages just sitting there waiting for you to pour over them. You think to yourself, “Nah, I’ll start that later tonight before I go to bed” or “Tomorrow sounds like a better time to sit and read”. Whether it’s reading, running errands, or a number of other things, we’ve all faced this internal battle with ourselves at some point.
But what if instead, we approach that task, in this case – reading, by breaking it into small actions. We could set aside 5 minutes and read the back cover, skim the table of contents to get an idea of what the book is about and read the forward or introduction. Boom – you’ve just started, which is 90% of the battle. Mark your page, and leave the next chapter for another time. Now you’ve started the book, and next time you have a few minutes you can read another 5 pages. Better yet, do the exact same thing same time, same place tomorrow. 5 pages a day and you’ll have the book finished this month. Whala! You’ve not only accomplished the task in only 5 minutes per day, but you’ve freed up all that space in your mind and dealt with the would-be stress of procrastinating. That 5 minutes you committed to reading would have been easily spent doing who knows what else, had you not set that time aside for some quick reading.
You can approach anything in your life with this same structure. If you’re not as in shape as you would like to be, it can be difficult to imagine yourself in great shape, able to run a 5K, and work out 4x per week, so instead you wait for the new year to roll around to “start then”. No! Start now – go walk to the end of your driveway, walk up 5 stairs, or do 1 pushup.
Start small, build habits, and see just how much you will accomplish in your own life. My challenge to you today is to create 1 new habit around something you want. Take the smallest action you can think of. If you can’t think of anything, then consider reaching out to me and telling me your commitment. You can do that by going to www.JacobAyers.com and contacting me from there.
You are an ever-evolving and capable person. With your will power, thoughts, and actions, you are capable of achieving anything you put your mind to. Start small, build on today’s achievements, and you tomorrow you’ll be one step closer to achieving your goal.