Why do we want to change them? Here’s Tom Ziglar’s response to a related question, “What is the fastest way to success?”
Replace bad habits with good habits.
Tom, like his father Zig, is so immersed in serving humanity that this answer was given off the cuff at a conference and now he and many others are repeating it to serve others. I don’t think it is enough to just remove habits because I think habits act a bunch like spirits:
43“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. 44Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. 45Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.”
—Matthew 12:43-45 NASB
If we don’t replace the bad habits, they’ll come back with some of their bad friends: drinking AND smoking, sleeping in AND skipping the gym, bottling up discontent AND . . . you get the idea.
Habit formation is easy! In fact, I have a bunch of habits that I don’t even feel deserve the formality of the title “Habit Formation” because I didn’t form them. I didn’t do anything. I just lived my life and went with the flow and SHA-BAM!!! they crept and crawled into my life without any work on my part. What did the formation here? My parents, my friends, my church, my associations, my co-workers, TV, internet basically my environment. My environment is made up of people and influenced by people.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
Since it is so easy, no wonder I’m getting the things I don’t want. I’m thinking about the poem again here:
Show me exactly how you want something done and after a few lessons, I will do it automatically…
Take me, train me, be firm with me and I will place the world at your feet. Be easy with me and I will destroy you.
I have a bunch of habits that resulted from “Be easy with me…” like: playing excessive video games, sleeping in, staying up late, spending money I don’t have, the list goes on. Not only do I have these habits but I’ve been practicing them for a very long time. I remember early in my recovery one of the leaders spoke of how much time I invested in my hurts, habits, and hang ups. I reflected on my life. . . it was a long time, some, for my entire life. Going on he asked how long recovery might take. Wow! That opened my eyes. I went to recovery for ONE THING. When I engaged, I found my life was a wreck. My simple introduction at recovery meetings began as “I’m Brian and I’m a believer who has been set free from sexual addiction.” Now, I’m so aware of the areas in my life God is working on my intro is different every week according to what highlighted itself that week. At one point, I was fearful and self degrading about my ever growing list of problems. But now I know that I can’t change my problems but God can.
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
—1 Corinthians 10:13
He will keep revealing new problems to me as He is ready to take them from me, as I am able to “endure it.” I’m sorry to get a bit preachy here, but He has changed (is changing) my life and He wants to change yours too. Just invite Him to show you the bad habits that grieve Him the most and surrender your life to His work in you.
Now that we understand the challenge facing us. Lets move on to the Solution.
The solution is change. Like I said last week, the older we get the less we like change. The only one who likes change is a baby with a dirty diaper. So, get over it! Man Up! or Woman Up! You know you don’t like change. Bite that off. Chew it up. And spit it out! It is a huge step to identify that change is required and that change is uncomfortable and accept both of those facts before deciding to modify your habits. Now be willing to be uncomfortable in order to achieve your big WHY. If your idea for habit modification doesn’t align with your big WHY, then it is not Yours. Remember the “Y” in W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. goals? If it is not yours you won’t be able to do it. Why? Because you don’t want to! Someone else wants it. Whenever I’m in pursuit of something I don’t want, guess what, I don’t get it. Simple!
Ok, start that list of bad habits you want to modify. Yes, write it down. Put it in your journal. Keep it for posterity’s sake. My journal is on the computer so that I can go to it at anytime. At work, home, and on the go–on my phone. Now put them in order of how much negative effect they have on our big WHY (that’s why I do it on the computer, so I can easily reorder it without rewriting–hey maybe I should be writing it down on good old fashioned paper just to strengthen it by rewriting it, oh but I don’t want to strengthen these bad habits. Oops there goes my mind again. If you see it please return it).
No really, stop right now and make that list.
Yes, I know you don’t have time.
But you aren’t going to finish it right now.
Just start it.
Because, truth be told this list will never be done until we join Him.
Ok, you’ve got a list and you’re ready to modify some habits. What? You have ### on your list and you’re thinking I can never change ### things right now, you’re right. That is why we put them in order. Now we can snatch the item off the top of the list and make that our ONE THING.
I’ve been a coach, teacher, tutor, camp counselor, life champion my entire life and nothing hindered me more than doing more than one thing or even trying to multi task. The best example I have is coaching downhill ski racing. I would stand at the side or bottom of the training course and over hear another coach speaking to an athlete giving a list of sins in their skiing technique. What is the athlete going to do next run? The green unseasoned athlete is going to go up the chairlift trying to remember all the things the coach said. At the top of the run, they’re going to try to remember them again, shove off to take another training run of chaos and confusion with ideas bouncing left and right triggered by bad turns and feelings as they meander down the course. The seasoned athlete will try to connect the biggest thing they’ve been working on in the recent past with something the coach said. Narrow that down to ONE THING. Spend the chair lift ride thinking and visualizing doing the run effectively with that ONE THING in mind. Get to the start of the training course with a short meditation on the course and what parts of the course will challenge the ONE THING. He will set a handful of micro or process goals of varied time frames from the hard turn to the entire run.
At the bottom of the run, who feels better? accomplished? successful? You know. But, did he nail the ONE THING? Did he cleanly maneuver that difficult turn? Probably not, but his body and environment has given him information directly associated with the ONE THING.
A recent book I read, The One Thing by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan really digs into doing ONE THING. They also discuss the study about habit formation we reviewed last week. I read it and loved it. Its not just for business but really applies to any area of life. Here’s my first plug to raise some money for this site, if you’re interested in buying the book please use my affiliate link here: The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. The ONE THING needs to start with the big picture in mind: what is your biggest ONE THING or biggest WHY which needs to be framed by what do you want to be/do/have in 5 years. . . 10 years. What do you look like? What do you act like? What is your legacy. That ONE THING is then taken down and scoped to shorter and shorter time frames:
- What is your ONE THING this year?
- What is your ONE THING this month?
- What is your ONE THING this week?
- What is your ONE THING today?
- What is your ONE THING this hour?
- Sometimes, What is your ONE THING this minute?
Remember that every ONE THING must point to the ONE THING in the larger time frames.
So far we’ve accepted that we want change. We’ve identified that change is uncomfortable. We’ve assured the change we want is aligned with our big WHY (“R” in W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. goals) and that the change is genuinely ours. This has potential. Now we need to start saying the change we want is already ours. It is possible, the “A” in W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. goals. Now every habit and person is unique and as we saw last week, the time for habit formation is a variable. Lets take the new habit we want, examine our historic behavior and make it into a W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. goal. Make sure you have every step covered and have shared it with your accountability team. Use your accountability team in each part of the goal creation. They know you–if they don’t, this is how they are going to get to know you. They should have some good advice for you and your potential success with this goal, forming this replacement or changed habit. Remember my quote from Goals And Change Part 2:
You are what you eat.
You play what you say.
You achieve what you believe.
Now we are on to part two, “You play what you say.” Take that outcome goal that you just created and set some process goals of appropriate time frames. If the outcome goal is 3 months away, set some monthly and weekly goals for the first month. Depending on the habit you are working to modify, set daily, hourly, or triggered goals. For example, when I began to do my side hustle work in the mornings with a goal of 40 – 5s (waking up 40 days at 5 a.m.) one of the blocking habits was staying up to late. The process goal I used in this situation was a daily trigger goal: when we put the kids to bed go to bed. I didn’t meet that goal everyday. But when I did the results were immediately apparent and the rewards were great. “You play what you say” just simplified means start doing what you want to become. I started saying “I get up at 5:00 a.m. every day.” By saying something the “play” gets a little easier. Um, yeah, I know, getting up at 5:00 a.m. is a bunch of work and next week we’ll talk about goalmentum (yes, I made up that word–one of the perks of being a writer) and willpower. Just calling the change “play” mentally lightens the burden and makes it easier to overcome. Enough time spent saying and playing we start believing.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
When I started my 5:00 a.m.’s i didn’t really believe it would become a habit but I could play it and say it. I’ve seen and heard others doing it. I have to admit, I didn’t do it last week because I have a cold and want it to go away as quickly as possible and my biggest WHY and my biggest ONE THING allowed me to prioritize sleep over my 5:00 a.m.’s for a short season. I maintained my bedtime trigger during this season because that helped me in getting more sleep. I no long have a 5:00 a.m. goal. I have a new habit. I don’t even use an alarm clock to wake up. I wake up between 4 and 5:30 naturally most days followed by choosing to get up and take action. When I miss that time, I look at the first “A” in the W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. goal and Assess and Evaluate what is going on. What caused me to miss? Am I sick? Did I stay out late at an event? What is interfering with my new habit? Then I respond in the context of my biggest WHY.
Next week we’ll be discussing Goalmentum and Willpower and examine the cost and benefits of goal setting and habit evolution even when we miss some or many of our goals.
Answer the following by emailing me or in the comments below:
- What is the first habit you want to change–write it out W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T.?
- What are you doing this week to change it?
- What are you doing today?
- What questions come to mind about habits?