I’de like to talk about something that I often notice. When people decide to change their habits and they don’t manage to, they think it comes from them and that they’ll never be able to do it. We often try to rely on our own motivation to change a habit, which can be very high to begin with. What we should do, is look at not only the system but our environment, the context and everything that happens around us. Often, when we’re not able to establish a habit, it’s not just because of us but because of everything that’s around us.
Changing habits come from 3 main levels
In terms of changing habits, we can distinguish 3 main levels. The first is changing the outcomes. So for example, if you’re looking to lose weight or to read more you can see the results spreading so you have a change in the result of what you are putting in place.
The second is the changes in the system and the process. This is important because while we’re looking to run a 10k, we don’t just want to run 10k and then go back to not running at all. If we want to read so many books in a year, we don’t want to stop reading the next year. The idea is not to run a marathon, the idea is to become a runner. So it’s creating a rock solid system and changing the outcomes. Losing 5 kilos is relatively simple, on the other hand, creating a system that allows you to become healthy over a long period of time and right to the end of your life is quite difficult. So that’s level two.
Goals are good, but system has to be your main focus
And now for level three, which is the most important. Once we have changed our system and we’ve gone from “I want to run a 10k” to “I have a system where I’ve put a system in place that allows me to become a daily runner” it changes your identity, which is the most important. This means that you have a belief, you’ve changed your mind set to believe that you’re indeed a runner and that is part of your core values. Once it’s become part of your values, that’s when you’ve reached Nirvana and your motivation to run is much easier.
So there are 3 main levels, the first is “I’m changing my daily results” so “I’m losing a bit of weight, I’m reading a bit” for example. Level 2, which is the level that you must absolutely work on is the system. It’s which system you have put in place every day, which routine, which little details you have changed in your habits to be able to have a system that allows you to reach the goals you have set for yourself. Lastly, the third level is that with consistence, at the end of the day you’ll change the way you perceive yourself.
Change your identity
For example, if you have decided to become vegetarian, it will slowly become a part of you and the next time you see, like me, a big plate of meat it will actually disgust you. It’s not my motivation to not eat meat which stops me eating meat. It’s the fact that I have now convinced myself that I’m a vegetarian and that it’s part of who I am, so I really don’t want to eat meat. So this is for the 3 main levels.
Something I’d like to add, that I often see, is context. I’ll give you a very simple example. If you have friends that don’t work out, drink a lot and love that rare steak it will be hard for you to continue seeing them and work out and become vegetarian. I’m not saying that you have to stop seeing them, I’m just saying that the environment in which you find yourself has a big role to play in the habits you’re trying to establish. Another example, if when you get home you always have a plate of cookies or candy waiting for you, then you know that seeing those cookies is not going to help you start your diet. The idea would be to replace these cookies with apples, for example.
The environment does have a big role to play
For example, I had the habit of buying chips, I love chips, so I’d come home and eat chips. The thing is, when I ate chips, I wanted a beer and when I drank a beer I drank another, etc. After a while, I said to myself, “OK, in actual fact I’m short circuiting myself.” Buying chips, and knowing that they were in the cupboard meant that as soon as I got home the motivation not to eat chips became much harder to find. So I stopped buying chips, I changed my environment and I didn’t feel the need to eat chips anymore. I would open the cupboard door once, twice and then after a while my brain reprogrammed itself and said to itself, “OK, I don’t have this habit anymore “ and replaced it with another habit. It could seem ridiculous, we’re talking about beer and chips, but imagine the same thing applied to lots of other subjects. You want to workout except that your friends want to go out for a drink every night, so all of a sudden it becomes a lot more complicated.
So what can you do to change your context ?
There are many simple things, like taking away the plate of cookies that’s available as soon as you get home. But there is also the possibility of changing the people that you choose to spend time with. If you want to start working out again, or become a vegetarian then maybe adding an athlete or a vegetarian into the people you spend time with, will help. It will help you in any case to tend towards your new habit. So there we have it, it can seem a bit basic but it’s something that we do have to realize. We are too often used to being really hard on ourselves by saying, “Well I find it really hard to work out so I can’t do it.” In this case we’re in the wrong environment and focusing only on the “outcomes”. On the results and not on the system, our identity or the people around us.
To defining a goal is good, it gives us direction, but it’s not the most important
Especially if you want to lose 10 kilos or start working out. This is the first level, now you need the second level : which systems have you put in place, what have you started to do daily to start changing all of this. To persist so that it becomes a change of identity and then work on your contexts and relations. Is the context in which you’re evolving, your environment such as your job, your apartment and your friends helpful in achieving your goals. Maybe you need small changes over a month, two months, three months even if it means coming back stronger into your previous environment.