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Old Habits …

Bruce Willis will probably keep making action movies because you know what they say about old habits …

~ Unknown

Last week I was at a conference which featured some of my favourite speakers on the roster.  The speaker that initially caught my attention was someone who’s weekly email newsletter actually gets read.  I have been following him several years and actually I booked for the conference simply for the opportunity to meet this guy.  

“Knock Knock, Who’s there? 

The consequences of my past decisions”

~ James Clear

When I started taking music lessons at the age of 5 or 6, it was my mum who helped me develop a habit of daily practice.  More recently, when I started learning a new instrument (bass guitar) I made my best progress when I practiced daily.  In fact I now keep my violin and guitar in my office, out of their cases and ready to play, so that I can easily take a break during the day to practice.  

The thing is, I have found that when I start something exciting and new it’s no trouble practicing regularly.  When I started playing bass I would spend endless hours practicing and learning and memorising the pieces I needed to play at the next gig.  I had no trouble making the time to get the guitar out.  

Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good, its the thing you do that makes you good.”

~ Malcolm Gladwell

However, I also noticed that when I wanted to lose weight, somehow it always seemed like a “better plan” to start tomorrow.  I could make the decision to do something, but I just struggled with actually taking action, like eating less, eating more healthily, and exercising more.  How many people have decided to lose weight and get fit, taken out a gym membership, bought all the clothes, yet don’t actually get to the gym very often, if at all.  I know that I am included in that tribe.  

Outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits

~ James Clear

James brings so many helpful concepts to the topic of developing new good habits, as well as reducing existing bad habits.  Some that I found especially helpful were Master the art of Showing Up, Focus on the Triggers, and Never Miss Twice. 

Master the art of Showing Up

He suggests that we focus on showing up, and even suggests that we show up for maybe just 60 seconds.  Consistently.  

I remember some years ago I started my first serious attempt at weight loss.  As a teenager I had always been really active playing rugby and participating in athletics, representing my school as a prop forward in the rugby first team and all sorts of athletics track and field events.  As I start by career, getting married and settling down to start a family I discovered that my clothes kept shrinking, and one day I caught my rather portly image on a film of a family outing, and decided to do something about it.  

I started going to a local Slimming Club, however after a few weeks found that the event was more likely to be enjoyed by the ladies (for all sorts of reasons) I decided to put that weekly fee into a Gym Membership instead, and started getting to the gym for a short workout every lunchtime.  That was soon supplemented by starting to commute to work on a bicycle, and before long I had a commute of 15-20 miles each way every day in addition to the gym session every day.  

“Each time you show up, you’re showing yourself that you’re the kind of person who can do this.”

Before long I was back into a 30 inch waist and my daily routine kept me in shape for years. A key element to the process was at the start when I committed to going to the gym every day, even if I only managed to work out for 5 minutes.  As I recall, one day, the best I could manage was to show up at the gym and get changed into my gym clothes, then without even one exercise I had to get changed back into my work clothes and leave.  

Focus on the Triggers

As a young man I had developed the habit of smoking, along with most of my colleagues and friends.  In fact, in those days, if you didn’t smoke you would have been considered a rare breed and somewhat strange to be a non-smoker.  I often used to say: “It would be easy to give up if I wanted to, I just don’t want to”, and “It’s easy to give up smoking, I’ve done it loads of times.”.

“It’s easy to give up smoking, I’ve done it loads of times.” 

In those days I was working in an engineering project environment, and whenever we would take a break we would have a smoke.  After a meal I would have a smoke.  I played in an orchestra, and at the break we would have a smoke.  

For several years I tried to give up smoking, but then when we took a break, whether at work or in the orchestra, if I didn’t have a smoke it would feel like I hadn’t had a break.  Something was missing.  The break was a trigger that caused an action of lighting up.  

Then I started to try and remove myself from those triggers – so I avoided getting to the coffee break when other smokers were there.  However, that meant that I was only able to be successful in not smoking once – all day long, and I wasn’t able to catch up with my friends and colleagues.  

The thing that helped me to make progress was actually joining the smokers on a break and NOT smoking, since then I could have 20 successes every day in my new habit.  Since I couldn’t easily remove the triggers, I focused on replacing the action that ensued from the triggers.  The key was to understand the triggers, and how I responded to them.

The thing that helped me to kick the habit for good though, was when I started to think of myself as a non-smoker.  Before I had thought of myself as a smoker who was trying to give up.  The mental switch to becoming a “non-smoker”, not a “smoker trying to give up” for me was a game changer.

Never Miss Twice 

This idea is awesome.  For me.  These days there are several apps that incorporate habit tracking.  For learning a new language I use Duolingo, and that’s helped me to get started on learning to speak Spanish.  I’ve also used a habit tracker app, such as Habit Bull (and others).  However, one of the drawbacks I often encountered was missing a session.  Often inadvertently.

However, having missed one session I was then tempted to take a “sabbatical” from that habit.  “Just a few days, then I’ll get back into it” I would promise myself.  That usually resulted in taking a long sabbatical!

Using the idea of never missing twice, solved that problem and actually made me even more determined to complete the habit the next day.

As I come to the end of a personally challenging season, I am ready to embrace this new season and incorporate some great habits to help get myself into shape physically and to continue building my business to take it to the next level.

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.