Good Habits

What good habits have you cultivated already?

I know that you already know this – success next year will be a lot easier when you're doing all the right stuff and staying clear of your bad habits, right? So I'm not going to get into why you need good habits. You already know. In fact, I bet some of your success this year boils down to some of the habits you've already developed.

If you're a solopreneur maybe it was getting on top of your billing (which is never fun). But sending invoices out in a timely way helps bring the cash in, doesn't it? Or maybe you developed a programming habit (like Norcross), where you do a little warm up before you do your serious coding.  Or maybe it was related to running. Or getting to the gym. Whatever you established as a pattern this year likely helped you already.

So how can you take it further?

Instead of getting into habit development, what I want to do is share with you the three things that will limit your ability to develop a good habit. That way, you can plan ahead and be prepared. These three mistakes, more than anything else, will derail all your efforts at developing good habits.

1. Shrink the Change

The Heath brothers, in their book, Switch, talk about three components for change – the head, the heart and the context. Most people get and plan for the head and heart. It's the context they forget about.

Let's say you decide you want to start running every day. Where should you put your shoes and running clothes? In a duffle bag that you also take with you to the gym? Nope. Next to the bed. So that the context helps you rather than hinders you.

Let's say you also like going to the gym. Here's an idea (because I'm a shoe guy) – buy a second pair of shoes – so one is in your gym duffel and the other is by your bed. However you do it – plan for your head and heart to find excuses. Mitigate them by establishing a context that shrinks the change.

2. Attach to Simple Triggers

BJ Fogg is a guy you may not have heard of. But his research – particularly around persuasion, change and technology – is worth looking into. In fact, you can participate in a 5 day experiment to change your behavior by joining his next “3 tiny habits” group. He suggests that for habits to be created, you need a trigger, motivation and ability. Again, let's leave the motivation and ability alone since I know you get those.

What normally stops our new habits from taking hold is that we don't link them to existing triggers. So you want to go to the gym daily. Great. But when? If you just hope that you'll get there at some point each day, you know it won't work. At least not for long. So tie the gym trip to another trigger that you already have – like your daily Starbucks trip. Pick a gym that's on the way and stop there first.

I don't go running but I do write. And these days I write much more. All because I linked my writing to other triggers that already existed in my day. Every night, after dinner, I would walk into my home office for a few hours. Now, that walk into my office is my trigger to write. Could be 500 words. Could be 1000. Or more. But every time I walk into my office after dinner it's “write time.”

3. Plan for Contingencies

The other way that your effort to develop good habits will get hosed is because you've been living in the “perfect world.” You know what I mean, right? The development of good habits requires that I admit I'm making trade-offs. Trade-offs that require me to establish contingency plans when things get messy.

I've started, for example, getting a back and shoulder massage every other week. I sit in an office chair for too many hours every day. And I've been doing that for almost 20 years. So I decided that a new habit would be to take an hour (sometimes even 90 minutes) and step out of the mix of everything going on and get a massage.

First, for all you programmers – you need to do this. Second – you know what's going to happen when you do – right? People are going to start emailing you or trying to schedule calls right at the time of your scheduled appointment. So I created a contingency. I set up a person who would attend meetings for me during that 90 minute space if push came to shove. It meant a little extra training and planning, but it was worth it. Because now I walk away from my computer once every two weeks and don't think about anything else.

By the way, if you try to hit me up tomorrow afternoon and I don't pick up for 90, now you know why.

How will you protect the development of your good habits?

So there you go – the three things you need to do because of the three ways we most often get stopped in our efforts to develop new good habits. Are there others I missed? What kinds of good habits are you trying to develop?

Also, if you're still at the point where you're trying to develop new habits, and want some help – as you go about making some new changes for the new year, you might want to sign up for my free 5-part email course on Personal Mastery. It's easy. It's in your inbox. And it's free.

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