Great WAYPOINT Goals:
5 Ways to Change a Habit

Change-a-HabitThe best laid plans—and WAYPOINT goals—are no good if we don’t put new behaviors into play. We need to override old habits to change a habit. The problem is that although we think we’re in charge, so much of what we do is directed by our subconscious beliefs. A Duke University study says that at least 45 percent of our waking behavior is habitual. That’s a little disconcerting for anyone who has sat down and mapped out an action plan with resolve and smart steps to change for future success.

Which is why the WAYPOINT goal setting worksheet (you can see it here) asks you to think things through and mentally prepare for making change. Unfortunately, the brain is pre-programmed to conserve energy, which means it tends to take short cuts and revert to status quo habits. While the brain represents only 2 percent of our weight, it consumes 20 percent of the body’s available energy.

Most of us know how hard it is to pull away from the status quo magnet. Before we know it, we react with habitual patterns. Fortunately, there is information from neuroscience and behavioral economics that helps us break away from ingrained routines so we can change a habit and proceed to develop new habits. Here’s information that might help you.

To change a habit you need five essential components:

  1. A reason to change
  2. An identified trigger that sets the old habit in motion
  3. A new micro-habit (something that takes less than 60 seconds to start the new habit)
  4. An effective way to practice the new habit
  5. A plan for implementing it and responding when you fail

1. A reason to change: Although we say we want to do something different for ourselves, it’s easy to find excuses and procrastinate. Unless, however, we make a connection to other people. When we decide that changing a habit will serve someone we care about, then we tend to be more reliable. Think less about what your new habit will do for you, and more about how this new habits will help a person you care about.

2. Find a Trigger: In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, he explains that if you don’t know what triggers the old behavior you want to change, you’ll end up doing it before you realize. If you want to stop snacking in front of the TV at night, and you know that the commercials send you to the kitchen for a glass of water (which then ends with one snack after another), then decide what you will do next time a commercial comes on.  Any time the trigger appears, don’t do what leads to the unwanted behavior, do something else.

3. Pick a Micro-habit: In Michael Bungay Stanier’s new book, The Coaching Habit, he suggests creating a small, specific habit that can be done in under 60 seconds, such as asking a crucial question. If you want to create an exercise habit, you might start with a simple warm up movement. It’s essential you take one or two steps that will lead to the bigger habit.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice: Know when and where you will practice. Start with small chunks of the bigger action. Get started with ease. Then repeat over and over again. Vary your practice with speed, intensity, and look for different ways to practice.

5. Become Mindful of Success: It’s surprising how easily we focus on how we didn’t do something, rather than notice the small changes we did make. Focus on success by noticing small progress and celebrate that. In some case, tracking helps remind us of when and where we were successful in ways our memory doesn’t do. (Which is why fitness trackers are so popular these days.)

Of these five essential elements to change a habit, which one do you need to focus on? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me here and on LinkedIn.

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