A cargo ship can’t take corners like a sports car. People intuitively get that.
When it comes to personal transformation, your life is more like an aircraft carrier than a sports car. People don’t always get that. The way that you live your life is a function of how you are. What you do over time has translated into what you are – what you have become. You are, after all, what you do just as you are what you eat.
Conversely, you also do the things you do because of the way you are…or put more directly…because of who you are. Your life experiences, traumas, inclinations, and personality have optimized your life based on a perceived “best practice.” Put another way, you live the way you do because at some level it works or is believed to work. The behaviors and associated payoffs may be seriously flawed, but those payoffs are there and do exist. For example, binge watching reality TV versus hitting the gym is a trade off you are making for a reason…likely because it provides short-term pleasure.
Many people think that one day they’re just going to embark on a transformation and change ten things about themselves at once. In one grand move, they believe they are going to make over their life. In my experience, that just doesn’t work
Simply put, change is exhausting. It’s not easy. It’s hard. You can realistically only take on so much at one time. Enthusiastic to make massive change after say a Tony Robbins event, people will plot a complete overhaul. That initial rush of motivation makes people impatient to drive serious change all at once. But, keeping that motivation up is extremely difficult. Deviating from the status quo so significantly is just going to wear you down.
I recommend moving one degree at a time. Making slight changes and then making them stick. Making them stick is not just about traditional “habit formation.” We’re being practical here. If you take on one change at a time, you can figure out what it’s going to take for you to make sure it happens every day, consistently, and without fail. You’ll be able to work out the bugs in your process. You’ll be able to focus on that one change, see what works and doesn’t work and make the appropriate adjustments to make that one thing work with consistency. If you try to make a dozen changes all at once, the likelihood of success is going to be lowered because you’re going to be trying to push twelve things forward an inch versus one thing a foot. It’s really that simple.
Here’s an example life change progression from a client. I suggested the following incremental layering of new behaviors to help improve his lifestyle:
- New routine 1 – Journal everyday
- New routine 2 – Plan your day first thing in the morning or the night before
- New routine 3 – Stick to a regular bed time and wake time
- New routine 4 – Meditate for at least 10 minutes per day
- New routine 5 – Increase water consumption to at least 64 ounces per day
- New routine 6 – 16 or 18 hour intermittent fasting – don’t eat before noon
- New routine 7 – Increase water consumption
- New routine 8 – Move to meal prep or meal service
- New routine 9 – Shift to lower carb diet
- New routine 10 – Take a morning walk and shoot to get 5,000 steps in before going to work
- New routine 11 – Add going to the gym 3 days per week
- New routine 12 – Increase meditation to 20 minutes per day
My goal with this approach is to start by creating routines and habits that help plan and organize the day and the person’s thoughts. I also want to expand the capacity to absorb change (i.e., absorb stress). So planning, good sleep, and meditation are critical starting points. That’s the right foundation. It’s not a new diet and exercise plan out the gate. That’s where I diverge from a lot of coaches. You’ve get to lay the sturdy scaffolding for change.
Then we’ll get increased water consumption into the mix to prepare for increased fasting. We embark on a natural progression that’s logically sequenced. Again, we want to make sure that the new routine sticks by virtue of the individual figuring out what little sources of friction they need to get rid of and what they have to give up to incorporate the new behavior into their life. So, for journaling everyday we may need to get up a bit earlier and to keep the journal simple to a few bullet points so it doesn’t feel like a daunting task. Those tweaks can make the task feel less overwhelming so that we avoid procrastination. We build from there.
Remember, there are only 24 hours in a day. Those 24 hours are filled somehow when we begin the transformation process. So, with each new behavior we are also making painful choices of removing some existing suboptimal behavior. Discarding what has perceived to have worked in the past is also going to be exhausting and stressful. We can’t add to much stress all at once or we just increase the probability of overall failure.
Now one question is how long should we let a new habit settle in before moving on to the next. I’d say a month is best. A week is required at a minimum. In reality, it depends on the specific new routine and person. For some people they achieve reliable consistency quickly. That’s really the litmus test. Move on to the next routine when you feel you’ve achieved a rhythm and are confident that the new routine has rooted itself in your life.