Changing Habits: Horses, Bayonets and Five Easy Steps

Posted by on Oct 23, 2012 in Goal-Setting | 0 comments

Changing Habits: Horses, Bayonets and Five Easy Steps

You swore you would change. It would be different this time. You even wrote down a plan. In five easy steps you would abandon your old habit forever, and you would experience a new freedom and success.  Wow! Were you ever excited! The only problem is, it didn’t work. You soon got off track and left your five-step plan in the dust. And you ended up in total breakdown, at least in this one area of your life.  How could this keep happening to you? Are you simply destined to fail?

Past performance is not your destiny. Thousands of people create new habits every day. Many people lose weight and keep it off, and it is not written anywhere that you cannot be one who succeeds.  But you might need something more than a five-point plan.  The truth is, for difficult problems, a three- five- or even ten-point solution is almost always incomplete. And, even if your plan is reasonably complete, reaching your goals almost always requires you to tweak your plan along the way. As someone who has skipped down the path to success, but also stumbled in the darkness, I offer some thoughts and tools to support your personal change efforts.

First, check in with your level of commitment. Just for fun, give your commitment a number on a scale from 1-10. Do your actions reflect this commitment? If not, it does not mean you are not committed to your goal, but it is time to take a closer look at the competing commitments and other obstacles in your way.

Let’s say your goal is to lose weight. You say you truly want to lose weight and even know what works for you. Unfortunately, you don’t follow the plan that you know works. What stops you is your competing commitment. The competing commitment could be a number of things. Perhaps you are more committed to having freedom around food choices than you are to following a plan.  Or, perhaps an unconscious commitment is prevailing, such as the need to use food to reduce daily stress.

The good news is that once you identify and name your competing commitments, they have less power over you and you can work with them. Now it’s time to really dig deep down inside of you to find that spark of desire surrounding your original goal and see if it shines more brightly than your competing commitments. Dig Deep. Can you say that you are willing to give up these competing commitments to have what you say you want? What do you need to do to address your competing commitments?

Once you have identified your competing commitments, take stock of your tools.  Sometimes a bayonet is enough to slay the dragon, but other times, something more sophisticated is needed.  Of all the tools, a good plan tops the list, and one that is personalized to meet your needs.  Take a look on the Internet, and you will find plenty of people offering points, steps and plans to achieve just about anything. But don’t be fooled into thinking that any plan is ever just right, and don’t wait to find exactly the right plan. Choose the one that seems the most right and adapt it along the way.

When you find yourself floundering, determine whether you are missing key skills. For example, if your goal is to reduce your sugar intake but you continue to eat a bag of chocolate every time you get upset or feel tired, the missing piece may be your ability to respond skillfully to the signals from your body and choose a healthier response. Although this seems obvious. until you’ve carefully analyzed your own breakdown, you can’t develop the skills you need to create change.  Get invested in understanding your breakdowns. You may have to study your breakdowns again and again. Remind yourself that you are worth the effort. Remember that you have only one “today.” Give yourself a little LOVE!

To help develop your skills and habits, identify in advance how you will deal with obstacles. Research demonstrates that the use of “implementation intentions” can increase the likelihood that you will succeed. Implementation intentions are simply key actions and phrases used to deal with obstacles. To make use of implementation intentions, list all the known obstacles that could hinder your progress toward your goal, and how you will deal with each one. Be thorough.

Plan first to avoid obstacles if you can. But when avoiding obstacles is impossible, have a plan with a key phrase and action step that will remind you of your commitment to your goal.  Your phrase should sound something like this: “When I feel tired and want to reach for the chocolate, I will remind myself that I care for myself by eating healthy foods, and will have a piece of fruit instead.” If your goal is to avoid distractions, your implementation intention might be, “I will set the timer for 60 minutes. If I find myself checking twitter or facebook, I will say to myself, “My goal to finish this book is important to me. It is more important than checking twitter. I can check twitter when the timer rings.”

Taking actions such as planning, looking for obstacles and ways to deal with them are all actions that will support you in achieving your goals. As a coach I help clients create effective plans and identify obstacles to success. It’s not easy, but it’s easier with a coach!

Side Note

Although I focus mostly on personal and organizational change, the memes from the October 22nd Presidential debate–Romney’s ” five-point plan” and President Obama’s “horses and bayonets” remind us that change is rarely simple and easy. The right tools are really important, disagreements are inevitable, and there are always competing commitments.

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