On a scale of “I have really crappy habits that I don’t know how to change” to “I’m totally kicking ass at life,” where do you fall? If you’re reading this, you probably have a habit or six you really want to change. If you don’t…you have bigger problems. Look, truthfully, we all get into the habit of doing things that don’t serve us well or take our lives in the direction we want them to go. From observing my friends and acquaintances over the last few months, here are some of the habits I’m seeing people out there struggle with:
- Staying productive
- Lack of exercise
- Eating crappy
- Getting into credit card debt
- Drinking too much
- Not sleeping enough
- Spending too much money eating out
- Staying in unhealthy relationships
- Trying to obtain self-worth from dating/relationships
- Not drinking enough water
- Letting emails pile up and not answering them for weeks or months at a time
- Too much time on social media sites
- Too much time watching TV
- Too much time browsing the Internet
…any of these sound familiar to you? There are several on this list that I struggle with myself. In fact, I can’t think of a single person I know who isn’t struggling with at least a couple of these bad habits. And this isn’t even close to the full list of crappy habits out there.
I bet even reading that list is overwhelming a bunch of you. “Oh. my. gosh. I have so much to do! So much to change! Where do I start? How will I get myself to break out of all the bad habits I have? What if I fail? Can I really change?”
Yeah. I used to have mental breakdowns about all the habits I wanted to change and adopt, too.
This past month, though, something has shifted in me. I got so sick of hearing people say that New Year’s resolutions don’t work. Because that’s false. Hell yeah, they work. The problem is, “resolving” to do something different is only the first step. You also have to: 1.) figure out exactly and specifically what you want to resolve, 2.) create a detailed plan for making your resolution happen, and 3.) change bad habits (aka rituals) and exchange them for great ones.
We totally forget to do these last three crucial things. And when it comes to the third part, so few of us actually take the time to commit to a set of habits we want to change.
The other big problem is that if you’ve tried to change your habits before and haven’t been successful, there’s a seed of doubt in your mind about your ability to actually change a habit. You need to get rid of that seed of doubt now, because it will percolate in your head and make just about any habit change impossible, especially once your initial motivation to change dwindles (and it will).
There’s an easy way to do this:
FOCUS ON CHANGING ONE HABIT AT A TIME.
So, the secret sauce is that simple: it’s all about focus.
Now, if you’re anything like me, right about now you’re thinking, “But Melissa, that’s going to take too long! Can I focus on two at a time? How about three?” Yeah, I know. The idea of just doing one thing at a time seems…painful. But think about it: it takes so much energy to unlearn an engrained behavior—and the more you engage in a behavior, like eating crappy, smoking, procrastinating, etc.—the harder it is to change it on willpower and motivation alone.
The great news is that if you can focus on one habit at a time, it will change your life forever (unless you decide to be an idiot and re-learn a crappy habit). It’s kind of the difference between putting a band-aid on an open wound, or getting stitches right away so it actually heals properly and you never have to worry about it again.
I finally surrendered to the idea of tackling one big habit change every month during 2013—a total of 12 new habits—and I have to say, I’m off to a pretty solid start in month #1. I’m confident enough now to write about it and say there’s power in this strategy:
Focus on changing or adopting one new habit per month for the next 12 months.
You can, of course, do your best to make headway with the other 11 habits you want to change. But in terms of total commitment, I want you to just focus on one at a time. If all of your energy is placed on just one habit, you are about 10x’s more likely to change it than if your motivation, willpower, commitment, and energy is scattered amongst a number of challenging habit changes.
Tomorrow, I’m going to use myself as a case study and tell you about the 12 habits I’m changing this year. I’ll also tell you about some success strategies I’ve learned and cultivated in month #1. Finally, I’ll give you a specific habit change action plan to take the guesswork out of it and make habit change an incredibly easy process for you (assuming you’re totally dedicated to transforming pre-existing habits).
In the meantime, start thinking today about the habits you most want to change or adopt. Think about what might have the greatest positive impact on your life if you stopped or started doing something habitually.
I’ll show you tomorrow what to do with the personal habit list you come up with today.