Starting habits that stick is hard for most people. But it doesn’t have to be.
When people want to start a new habit, they get obsessed with doing it everyday. And then, on day five, their willpower dwindles. They eat ice cream again. They don’t go to the gym. They make an excuse.
Of course, it’s good to reward yourself when you do something hard. One of the key elements of Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” was to set up psychological rewards for yourself when you start making the habit change that you want.
But, to be honest, this has never worked that well for me or many other people that I know. The thing about this habit-changing technique is that you get caught in the trenches and don’t have a higher vision.
Let me explain.
When I was five I saw Jurassic Park and it changed my life.
I wanted to be a paleontologist. I learned a ton about ecology, dinosaur names, state parks where they might be buried… Jurassic Park single-handedly brain washed me into my first dream job.
My senior year of college I started to read a lot. To be honest, I wanted to “get smarter”. I wanted to be seen as the “well-read guy”. Only months into reading did I start to like reading for the sake of reading.
Around that time I also started doing stand-up comedy. Everyday I’d think of jokes and practice around my friends because I had an image of myself as a funny person. I wanted to be a funny guy. Only a few months later did I start telling jokes just to joke around.
What do these have in common? There are two takeaways.
Takeaway #1 – It takes months to substantially change your life
If my goal was to start reading purely for reading’s sake, I wouldn’t have done it. I would have tossed my books down the gutter. If you don’t read, why read for pleasure?
I had to grind for months. It was only after several months that I got in a rhythm of reading that was enjoyable. And even then it was still hard. Frankly, it’s hard even to this day, but much less so.
Likewise with becoming more funny consistently. It was a long time before I would tell jokes for the sake of telling jokes. It took months before I would do it unconsciously.
Starting new habits is hard work. But it becomes much easier when you understand my second point.
Takeaway #2 – Vision is more important than any specific habit
With all of my life changes, I honestly didn’t focus on the habits themselves. The focus was much more directed on who I wanted to become in the future. The habits followed suit.
Think about it. Whether you want to become more charismatic or lose a little weight, an image of ourselves in the future is much more motivating than any specific reward in a habit loop.
When you see people with amazingly sculpted bodies, do you think they go to the gym because of the small reward of a protein shake at the end of the workout? Think for a second.
Of course not!
The real driving factor is that they have an image of themselves of how they want to be. They are working for their future selves. The thought of seeing ten pounds less on the scale, or a sculpted body, is more important to them than any micro-reward post-workout.
So how does this apply to you?
Think about any change that you want to make. Want to get up early? Want to become more socially confident? Want to read more?
Before you do anything, you have to start thinking about yourself as the type of person that does these things. Visualize yourself reading hundreds of books or talking to anyone on the street uninhibited. See the picture clearly. That’s what you’re going for. The rest is just repetition.
Of course, it’s important to give yourself rewards. But don’t fool yourself. You need to absorb that vision as your identity if you really want to change – the sooner the better.
What else has helped you transform your habits? Let us know in the comments below!