Do you have a habit you would like to change, but you don’t know where to start? Maybe you want to start to exercise more or decrease your intake of junk food and eat more healthy food. You think about doing it, but then the idea becomes too overwhelming, and you stall. You have stopped before you’ve even started.
As humans, we don’t like big change. But change doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and the key to changing an existing habit or creating a new one is by starting small. Small wins over time lead to big change, and this week, I’m showing you how to get started.
In this episode, I’m sharing the three things that starting a new habit really boils down to and showing you how to get started with creating new habits that are more aligned with your goals. Hear some questions to ask yourself to help you review your existing habits and some manageable steps you can take today to drive the change you desire.
To celebrate the launch of the show, I’m giving away a wellness journal to five lucky listeners who follow, rate and review the show. I want your honest opinion and feedback so I can create an awesome show, and make it a useful, fun resource for you.
Click here to learn more about the contest and how to enter!
What You Will Discover:
- What self-efficacy is, why it is so important to establish and how to create it.
- Some thoughts to try on to make you feel empowered and help you take action from that place.
- What our habits and routines are driven by.
- How a habit is formed.
- What a habit loop is and how to look at your own.
- The key to getting started changing your habits.
- Why you cannot change what you do not measure.
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
- To celebrate the launch of the show, I’m giving away a wellness journal to five lucky listeners who follow, rate, and review the show. Click here to learn more.
Full Episode Transcript:
You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #8. Want to change your habits, but have no idea where to start? Let’s get you going now.
Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high achieving, busy working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer and Certified Life Coach Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.
Hey, how are you? What’s new? What’s good? I was on my way home from dropping my kids off at camp this morning, and I wanted to share a tip that I used on myself, and I wanted to share with you.
While I was driving home, I started to create my mental checklist of all the things that I needed to get done today. Including, recording this podcast and writing a newsletter, some client programs, all these things.
And then, I also started loading things like; fold the laundry, and unload the dishwasher, and balance the checkbook, all these things. The more I did this, the more I started to freak myself out. Then, I remembered this tip that I want to pass on.
When I am prioritizing my to-do list, I often have to think about who’s going to be around. Because you know this, when you need to do focus work or get something important done, it’s kind of hard when you have kids asking you for a snack or to intercept a fight, or what have you.
As I was prioritizing my list today, I reminded myself; what are the things that I need to be most focused on and need to get in a zone in order to do? And those were the things like this, like talking to you, that were at the top of my list.
Then later, when they’re home, if they need something, if they need a snack or whatever, it’s fine; I can fold laundry while they do that. I can balance the checkbook while they are running around.
I want to offer that to you. If you are someone who has very limited kid-free time, prioritize that time for things that you cannot do otherwise. Especially, for one thing, exercise. If it is hard to get in a workout while your kids are around and awake, is there a time in the day that you can do it when they are not going to disturb you? It may require shifting some things around a little bit.
But I want to offer that to you, because using this, for myself, as a mental checklist has been a game changer. It’s allowed me to get the things done, that I truly need to focus on, and then save the other stuff for later.
So, today, what we’re going to talk about. I’ve gotten asked this a couple of times, so I thought it would be good to devote an entire podcast about how to get started. Meaning, if there is a habit that you’d like to change, how the heck do you do it?
For many of you, it may be starting to exercise. Or, maybe it’s to decrease your intake of junk food and start eating more healthy food. But then, when you start to think about it, the idea gets totally overwhelming and by that point you just don’t bother, and you have stopped before you’ve even started.
So, here it is. I am going to break this down for you. When you’re looking to start a new habit, it often boils down to these three things. Your identity, the result that qualifies that identity, and then the behavior. What we’re going to do is go through each one of these things. Because hopefully, by the time we go through this, this will make sense. And, you can start to apply it to yourself.
Let’s start with your identity. Often, when I start working with a client, we’ll talk about goals and what they’re looking to do. Generally, it sounds something like this: I want to be healthy. I want to be more fit. I want to be an athlete. I want to be a runner. I want to be more productive. I would love to be less stressed.
Notice something about all of these? Because I hear these all the time. These are all ways that you can describe yourself, right? These are adjectives and nouns that describe your attributes. But truthfully, those, to me, are words. To be honest, those words are pretty nebulous.
You can use the identity as your guiding principle, but we’re gonna take a little farther. In the previous example, what does it mean to be healthy? What does it mean to you, to be active? What does it mean to describe yourself as productive?
To go back, does healthy mean that you can race up the stairs without losing your breath? Does it mean you lose weight? Does it mean you can get through your day with energy, and not get winded by things like walking your dog? So, get really specific.
Here’s the other thing that I’ll add: You do not need to justify the identity that you want to anyone except for yourself. The key here, is that your identity and how you identify yourself matters to you. It has to be compelling enough that it drives you to take action. I would love for you to get really clear on your ‘why’ as you’re describing the identity that you want. Alright?
So next, is determine your results. What is the outcome that you are looking to achieve? If you want to feel healthy, does that mean losing 10 pounds so you can run around with your kids? Does that mean eating less takeout and eating meals that you make at home, five out of seven nights a week? If you want to be active, does that mean running a 5k road race? Does it mean that you build muscle and change your physique?
If you want to be more productive: Are you writing more blogs, producing more reports, getting all of your patient charts completed before you leave your clinic? Get really specific? I’ve said it before, I will say it again, this is tedious, I know. This is getting into the nitty gritty. This is getting into the weeds here. But this is where it matters, and this is where it counts.
Because when you leave your results or your outcomes nebulous, that does not get them done. As an example, if you want to feel healthy, and you decide that to feel healthy you want to lose 10 pounds, there it is. There’s your result.
The key about the result is that it is measurable; you either do or do not lose the weight. If you want to be a runner, you either do or do not run a 5k race. If you want to be more productive, you either did or did not finish your report before you left the office. Remember, we cannot change what we don’t measure. What is the result or the outcome that you are looking to measure. Again, make it specific.
You have your identity, then you have your result, and then last, take it to the micro level; get to the behavior. What is the behavior you can do that will get you closer to that result? In the example, if your results or your outcome is to lose 10 pounds, what are the behaviors that will get you there?
The key about the behavior, again, is that it is something specific that you can do today. Think about it; that does not mean I will eat healthier. I say that from a place of tough love, because I’ve had so many clients simply declare to me, “I’m going to eat healthier.”
Healthy is up for debate. Again, that’s nebulous, and it does not tell me what you’re putting on your plate tonight for dinner. Tell me, what you’re actually going to do today, to get yourself closer to your goal?
Let me help you even more with this. If your desired result is to lose 10 pounds, you’re not going to achieve that at dinner tonight, right? It just doesn’t work that way. It’d be awesome if it did, but it just doesn’t work that way.
But this is where your behavior comes in. You can choose a salad for dinner tonight. That is the behavior that you can do today, that will get you on the path towards your result. You’re not running a 5k today, but you can run for two minutes and walk for one minute today. Do you see the difference here?
I keep stressing the word today, for a reason; there is no good time to start doing these behaviors. If you are waiting for the perfect opportunity, the perfect day, the perfect temperature, any of those things, to start eating a salad for dinner, or to stay at work to finish your project, you’re going to be waiting for forever, and nothing is going to happen.
There is no perfect day to start. So, why not today? Find the smallest behavior you can do today, to get it going. Because it is these tiny behaviors that you start today, and repeat over time, that ultimately add up to your result. It’s that result that helps you ultimately achieve that identity.
To summarize: Start with the identity. There’s your desire, there’s your want. What are the words that you want to use to describe yourself? How do you want to describe yourself? I want to be healthy; I want to be active, productive; you choose.
Then, what is the result that you want to produce? What outcome do you want to achieve, that in your mind is going to help you live into that identity, that you’ve chosen for yourself? Make it something measurable. Make it something objective, so you know that you either did or did not achieve it. That is a measurable outcome; lose 10 pounds, run a race, write this report, get those charts done.
Then last, choose your behavior. There is your activity, that you do on a micro level repeatedly, starting today, that gets you closer to your goal. Now, let’s zone in on the behavior, because this is where it gets hard. This, truthfully, is where people try to do too much, too fast, too soon.
But I’m going to give you some tools here to make this a little easier, so you can avoid all that. Because the goal is to set you up for success. When you’re choosing your behavior, there’s two things to consider: First, that behavior that you take on, should have an impact. It’s got to get you closer to your goal.
If your desire is to be healthy, if your identity is to be healthy, and you want to lose 10 pounds, trade your usual side of French fries for a salad. Replace one regular soda with a water. Trading one fast food for another, is not going to get you there. Trading pizza for hamburgers; not going to do it. So, you see what I mean. Choose a behavior that has an impact and that aligns with your goal.
Then second, the behavior should be something that you will do. I know it sounds so silly to say that, but it is true. Meaning, if you have zero intention of eating more vegetables, it does not make sense to say that you’re going to eat a salad with dinner five nights a week.
Having said that, there is a huge difference between being able to do something, and actually doing something. That’s creating discipline and we’re going to talk all about how you do that in an upcoming episode. We’re going to get into discipline and willpower and all that, so stay tuned.
If you have no intention of running after work, for example, then do not make that your behavior. If you cannot get yourself to stay at work for 30 minutes, to finish your charts or close the report, then do not make that the behavior you choose; it needs to be something that you will do. Let me add this, when you’re choosing what to do, make it small.
Admittedly, I get a lot of flak and a lot of pushback for this, but I’m going to stick to it. Here’s why: As humans, we do not like big change. You know this; ripping the band aid off, that generally does not work. We do not like big sweeping change for the long haul. I make this point because I see it all the time.
As an example, I’ll start working with a client and she wants to go from being sedentary or totally inactive, to weight training three days a week and running five days a week. Then, we follow up, and in that week nothing has happened. She gets upset with herself and starts beating herself up.
But this is an opportunity to ask yourself if the behavior you’re choosing makes sense. Does it make sense to go from zero exercise to five days a week of exercise? Or, say you eat out seven days a week; does it make sense that next week you’re going to cook every single dinner at home, when you don’t even know where your pan is because you haven’t used it in who knows how long?
Do you see my point here? I’m harping on this because this is where I commonly see people run into trouble. And, it makes sense. Look around you, it is all about go big or go home, and 75 Hard, and all-or-nothing; no carbs, no meat, no chocolate, you know, it’s these extremes. They can be enticing, because it’s presented to you in a way that it’s gonna get you these big results.
But this is where social media and marketing, and diet plans and fads, can really throw you off. Don’t be fooled; start small. Again, humans, while we’re not wired for big change, we are wired to love and seek out success. Success, it just feels good. Your brain likes to feel good.
Small wins, when added up over time, not only make your brain feel good, they also lead to big wins. You can even take the word “small” out of the equation, because it’s still a win.
Here’s another important thing to consider: When you focus on something small, that’s still a stretch, but it’s doable, and you succeed, you’re creating self-efficacy. I know that sounds like a fuzzy word, but I cannot stress how important it is to establish self-efficacy, in order to make and sustain any major change.
Self-efficacy, basically, that is your belief in your ability to do what you got to do, in order to reach your goal. Do you believe in your ability to get the job done? And, this is huge. Many of you do not have that belief in yourself. The way this most commonly comes out is this, you tell me, “Well, I’ve never been able to lose weight. I’ve never been able to lose weight and keep it off in the past. I’ve never been an athlete. I’ve never been able to run a 10-minute mile.”
Here’s the thing, that’s using evidence from your past to determine your future. If you’ve looked at the past, and if you’ve looked at your previous attempts that have failed to result in weight loss, you will make that your future, too. If you focus on your past failures at losing weight, you will make that your current reality. It’s all about proving ourselves right. Humans like to prove ourselves, right.
Here’s where it goes back to our thoughts; it is possible for me to lose weight. Think about that, in contrast to; I’ve never been able to lose weight in the past. Do you see the difference? One is looking forward, towards the future, with an eye on possibility. There’s your open window. The other is looking backwards and slamming the door shut on the possibility of change in the future.
Here it is, this is where it all comes together. This is where your thoughts are such a key player, because they are instrumental in driving your change. You can use your very powerful brain to create thoughts that make you feel empowered, and ultimately lead you to take action. It is possible for me to lose weight; try that on.
From that place of empowerment, you take action in the form of eating salad for dinner, and saying no to ice cream before bed. There’s your win; you proved yourself, right. In that process, you’re building self-efficacy. You have the belief, it is possible, then you go and do the damn thing.
You eat the salad, or you slog yourself out of bed at 5am, or you run around the block and you prove to yourself that you have the ability to do what you need to do. There it is, that is self-efficacy. That is where the money is at; that was priceless. Because once you believe in your ability to do the hard thing, and then you go do it, you are unstoppable. That’s the work, right there.
So, to summarize: The behavior you choose to work on should have two things. One, it should have an impact on your desired result. Two, it should be something you will actually do, which will lead to creating self-efficacy, which in turn, will fuel repeating the behavior. See how this works? It’s cool.
Next, we’re going to create the habit. What this means is; you take that small behavior, and you make it into a habit loop. I’m going to get a little nerdy here and talk about the anatomy of a habit. Because one, I love it. And two, once you understand the parts of the habit, you can start to look at your own habits in a different way, and then engineer them to work better for you.
Every habit has a few parts. Depending on what books you’ve read, you’re going to hear them described a little differently. I really like Charles Duhigg’s, The Power of Habit, and how he breaks it down. I’m going to share his viewpoints, kind of paraphrase, and take my own spin on it.
But every habit has a cue; that’s a trigger. That’s basically the prompt that tells you, “Hey, it’s time to do the behavior.” That can be a place, a time of day, a feeling, a person, an action. Then, once you have that cue, it tells you to do the routine. That’s the behavior, that’s fairly straightforward. What is it that the cue causes you to do? Then at last, is the reward. What is it that you get by doing the behavior, by doing the routine?
So, our habits and our routines are driven by cravings. And the most powerful of these cravings is to feel better. So, feeling full, instead of hungry. To feel happy, instead of angry or sad. To feel healthy, to feel active. Do you see where I’m going with this? The reward is, that whatever you do, makes you feel good.
The human brain generally has a desire to feel good. When you find a behavior that makes you feel good, whether it’s a good habit, or a bad habit, it tells your brain, “Hey, I like that. Let’s do that again. This makes me feel good.” So, this is how something that starts out as a choice, ultimately becomes a habit.
You pick up the drink, you drink the drink, you numb your feelings, and you feel better. In the process, it tells your brain, “Hey, I like this, do that again.” Pick your vice; Netflix®, ice cream, alcohol, whatever. We make these into habit, because they make you feel better.
You can do this with habits that harm you, just as easily as you can with habits that help you. We choose to do something, and then we get the reward of feeling better. It tells your brain, “Do that again, so I can keep feeling good.” Then, the conscious choice becomes a habit that goes on autopilot.
Let’s go to the example of weight loss and just making dinner. Take the cue, of going to your fridge to make dinner. The routine here is: I pull a bag of frozen French fries. The reward is, I eat the French fries, and I feel full; you feel better.
It’s in habit science, that we’ve found that changing the routine is typically where you’ll get the biggest return on your investment. It’s often hard to change the cue. Look, I mean, if you think about it this way, you generally go into your fridge to make dinner. Take that cue, “When I go to the fridge to pull out food for dinner, I will…” and then, add your behavior. This is your routine.
If before, the routine would be, “I pull out the bag of fries,” here’s where you insert a new routine,” I will pull up the romaine, the cucumbers, strawberries, and apples and I will make a salad.” The reward is the same; you eat the food, but this time, you’ve made and eaten food that aligns with your goals. This is the habit loop.
Truthfully, you can apply this to any habit. Think about it: My head hits the pillow; there’s your cue. I pull out my phone and scroll through social media for an hour; there’s your routine. I zone out, I buffer, I numb myself; there’s your reward.
Now, if you take that habit loop, kind of hard to change the cue, you generally lay your head on your pillow before you go to bed at night. Most of us still desire that reward or that feel good vibe before going to bed. So, how can you change the routine to make it align with your goal of spending less time on your phone?
Can you read a book, or fall asleep and hit your face with the book, like I do? Can you write, so, a list of things to do the next day, or journal, or write a letter to someone? How about a Sudoku? Maybe talk to your partner. All of these are routines.
Here’s another example: Your cue, the alarm goes off at five o’clock for my early morning workout routine. Your routine, I hit the snooze button over and over again. The reward is more sleep. Though, I would argue, it’s probably not great sleep. But you spared yourself the sweat and discomfort of your workout.
Flip that routine. Here it is, same cue, alarm goes off at 5am. The routine, I turn off the alarm and I tell myself, “I can get this done.” Again, drawing on the power of your thoughts here; saying that to yourself makes you feel empowered, and you get yourself out of bed, and the reward is you get the workout done.
Start thinking about this in terms of your own habits. Where can you pick one thing to zone in on and change, and then look for your habit loop. Because here’s how it works: Once you pick that one thing, whether it’s a salad at dinner instead of fries, or getting up at 5am to run for 10 minutes before we get ready to work, or staying at work for 30 more minutes, with your phone off, to get your work done for the day.
Once you pick it, and you zone in on it and you nail it, there’s your self-efficacy. And, what you focus on, you will produce more of. In this case, you’re building more self-efficacy. From there, you apply it to something else.
Now that I’m eating a salad for dinner most nights, instead of French fries, maybe I’ll have a piece of fruit for a snack, instead of a bag of pretzels from the vending machine, and so on. What this becomes, is a series of habit loops that are built upon each other and engineered by you. The smaller they are, the better.
Alright, so here it is this is how you get started. Whatever habit it is, this is where we start. Let me summarize: Determine your identity. How do you want to describe yourself? What are the words? Find the word that you want to use to describe yourself.
Then, find the result. What measurable results will allow you to live into that identity? And then, take it to the micro level and find the behavior, the thing that you will do today, that will get you closer to that result. Once you identify the behavior, zone in. Zone in and ensure that it is something; one, that’s going to make an impact and get you closer to your goal. Two, that it’s something that you will actually do. Then last, make that behavior into a habit loop.
Consider the cue; what’s the prompt that is going to cause you to do the behavior? What is the routine or the behavior itself? And, what’s your reward? Pick that one habit, run with it, practice that behavior until it is a habit, until it is on autopilot, and then from there, build on your success.
Again, the key here, keep it small, keep it simple. Do not go from zero to 180; we are just not set up for that. That’s fad diets, that’s extremes. For most people, it just does not work to promote sustainable, long-term change. Again, take the small out of the equation. Remember, a win is a win. When you succeed at changing or establishing a habit, you are winning. That is proving to yourself that you can do the hard thing, and then take that success and turn it into another success.
With time, you’ll see that you get closer and closer to that result; losing the weight, running the race, finishing the project, whatever it is. What’s even better, is that in this process, your identity changes; you become healthy, you become active, you become more productive. It is such a cool process.
So, there it is this is where you start. Try this out, come up with your identity, result, and behavior. Take that behavior and make a habit loop; the smaller the better. I would love to know what you think about this. If you have questions about this, please share them in the comments. So many great suggestions have come from your comments in the reviews, in the show notes. So, thank you.
Thank you, again, for listening. Let me know what you think of this, and I am pumped to hang out with you again next week.
To celebrate the launch of the show, I’m going to be giving away a Wellness Journal to five listeners who follow, rate, and review the show. You do not have to give it five stars, although I certainly hope you love what you’ve heard so far. But more than anything, please give me your honest opinion and feedback so I can create an awesome show for you.
I would love it if you shared your questions and thoughts, so I can make the show a useful and fun resource for you. Visit CarrieHollandMD.com/podcastlaunch to learn more about the contest and how to enter. I’ll be announcing winners on the show in an upcoming episode. See you next week.
Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think so you can live in the body you want with the mind match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.
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