It’s interesting how some people make swift changes in their lives, while others struggle to make even small progress. Why does change come so easily to some, but with such difficulty to others?
Over the last 6 years of my life, I’ve studied a variety materials related to human behaviour and change. I’ve worked on implementing a variety of new habits and skills into my life. Sometimes change has come quite rapidly, and other times to no avail.
Throughout out my studies of human behavior, neuroscience and habitual change, I’ve realized we fall short in the same areas over and over again.
Let me share the 5 most common errors I’ve observed and come across in my studies:
Mistake #1: Setting Unrealistic Expectations
The biggest mistake we make is trying to change from 0 to 60 in 3.8 seconds. We begin overweight, with no exercise regime, believing we can just start working out 3 times a week at the crack of dawn. As fallible human beings, this high expectation can destroy us before we even get going. One of the most important things about goal setting is to make your goals realistic.
Try to set SMART goals. SMART stands for:
S – Specific
M – Measureable
A – Attainable
R – Realistic
T – Time sensitive
SMART goals hone in on the details of your objective, giving you boundaries and references for tracking performance, thereby maximizing your probability of success.
Now, all 5 aspects of SMART are important but the most critical component is Realistic. It’s unbelievable how often we set ourselves up for failure.
Consider the common scenario of a person quitting their New Year’s Resolution 5 days into the new year. Coincidentally, 5 days is the magic stopping point where most people quit a 30 day challenge.
So why do so many of us drop out at the same time? The answer is unrealistic expectations.
Tim Ferriss, a New York Times best selling author and expert life hacker, says it’s better to make minimal incremental improvements instead of drastic changes you’re more likely to quit on. He calls this the ‘minimum effective dose’ – the smallest change you can make that will have the greatest substantial impact on your life.
Ferriss recognizes humans can be lazy, and that it’s difficult to make habitual changes. Thus, he aims to find the little actions that will have the greatest amount of impact.
The important takeaway from this is that if we set smaller, achievable goals for ourselves, we’re more likely to stick with them, and more likely to realize their lasting impact on our lives.
Mistake #2: Failing to Create Checkpoints
Say you want to start exercising in the morning before work. The act of going to the gym and working out is our end goal. If you want to work out before work, you’ll need to achieve a series of micro goals (checkpoints) before you even start.
In this example, two critical micro goals will greatly influence the likelihood of your success:
- Pack your gym bag the night before.
- Get to bed before your usual bedtime.
Your new goal essentially means waking up earlier and creating time in your schedule. Keep in mind you haven’t even begun working out before work yet, but a packed bag and an early night substantially increases your chances of coming through on your new habit.
Mistake #3: Dismissing Your Emotions
We like to think we’re fully rational creatures, but the reality is that emotions rule our lives. The goals that stick have emotional conviction. It’s one thing to say, “I want to work out, I want to eat healthier, I want to be skinnier,” but this is just your logical brain spitting out wants.
You have to get your emotions involved if you want serious change. Let’s go back to the weight loss example. There will be times where you simply “don’t feel like working out”. You may have had a shitty day, or whatever other excuse you find.
Your emotional brain is more powerful than your logical brain. If you “don’t feel like working out”, you’ll have a hard time logically persuading yourself to go the gym. Emotion always trumps logic.
For serious changes in your life, find the angle that will make an emotional difference – for instance: “I want to work out so I feel more confident the next time I go to the beach or a Vegas pool party.” If you get your emotions behind your new habit, you’re more likely to make that habit last.
Mistake #4: Avoiding Discomfort
The process of changing is actually quite complicated, so it’s important to understand what is happening at a biological level. When you start a new habit, your cells will start replicating with new receptors to accommodate the physiological changes that are occurring in your body.
Naturally, your brain will notice these changes. Your brain may start sending you signals with messages like “this doesn’t feel right” or “this isn’t for me”. We start attaching stories to these new sensations when embracing our new habit.
Every time we do something new, we’re going to have neurological pathways firing that we aren’t used to. You have to recognize that these new feelings are a direct result of the fact that you’re doing something new. If you start attaching negative stories to these sensations, you’ll have a hard time sticking with your new habit.
Resist this. Once you recognize this is how change feels, you can lean into the discomfort because you know it’s a part of the process.
One of the best explanations I have ever heard about this comes from Todd Herman. Start the clip from 2:20 to learn exactly about the biology of change from a science standpoint, and how it will make you feel (I’ve watched this video numerous times and highly recommend it).
Understanding that change is uncomfortable, and that your brain will automatically resist, is essential to overcoming those negative feelings when they arise.
Mistake #5: Forgetting Baseline Data
I can’t stress this enough – it’s really hard to know whether you’ve changed when you can’t compare progress against your original starting point.
Whether your goal is to lose weight or build muscle, take photographs in the beginning, or as you go – take selfies if you have to. Or get on a scale and weigh yourself. If you want more detailed statistics, take physical measurements of your waist, legs, ass, chest, arms, or whatever else you need to monitor.
The key is to give yourself a starting point. Know where you came from, so you can tell how close you get to where you’re going. I normally start with just one point of data. As I develop my habit, I start tracking more parameters. Start simple to encourage your change to stick.
So there you have 5 key elements to focus on if you want to create a new habit for yourself. If you have any questions, or want to work with me personally on making changes in your life, get in touch.
Here to see you succeed,