We all have dreams, things we desire in our lives, goals we want to reach. They say dream big, but sometimes making our big dreams reality feels like…well, a dream!
What if you started thinking of your life goals,
not as big, audacious things that you can only achieve when the time is right
or when you have better resources or when you finally catch your big break…
but instead as tiny, daily behaviors that are repeated until success becomes inevitable?
– James Clear
One way to reach your big goals, and make your dreams reality is to think huge, and then work backwards – breaking the dream down into small, incremental steps, until you have something that you can do each and every day to work towards your ultimate goal.
Maya Angelou recently passed away. She was one of the most famed writers of our time. People often refer to her work as ‘inspired’ but the truth is, she didn’t wait until she felt inspired to write. Writing was routine. Habit. Every day, she woke up, had coffee with her husband and then went to a hotel room that she kept. She stayed there from 7 am until 2 in the afternoon. If the day wasn’t going well, she would stay until twelve. If she was having a productive day, she stayed longer. Regardless, every morning, she went to that hotel room and wrote.
So, how can you change bad habits and replace them with good habits?
Incrementally – one baby step at a time
In order for true to change to happen, it needs to become part of our lifestyle. The best example for this is weight loss/ fitness. Fad diets and shakes are so popular because they offer the elusive promise of instant results, and we live in an “I-want-it-now” world. In an effort to lose weight, women particularly will diet hard-core, work out at insane levels – like the amusement ride that accelerates from zero to 80miles/per hour within seconds. I have even watched women achieve pretty impressive results, only to lose them shortly after. The problem is that this isn’t sustainable. It hasn’t become a way of life.
Eli Sapharti is a great example of this. In 2008, he was an obese 300 pounds. One day he looked in the mirror and made up his mind to change… one small step a time. He started to change his habits, little by little – and now he weighs 180 with 10% body fat and is a fitness icon. (Check out his Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/FatBoyFitMan)
Lasting changes are those that become a lifestyle.
A New You = New Actions
I believe it is human nature to want to be better. In an effort to become better, we attempt to change our actions – and then we get discouraged when we fail – believing we don’t have enough will-power, or that we are just not disciplined enough, or strong enough.
True change begins within. You can create your own identity and shape your own life to be the person you want to be, but it takes a conscious choice and effort. I recently sat down and wrote out who I want to be as a person; I described everything I could think of. In fact, this blog is a result of that list. I love to write, but haven’t done it in ages. I decided that I want writing to be a part of my identity, and so, I started to write. I started writing every day, and posting to this blog once a week.
Another example from my own life is fitness. I love to work out, and am happiest when I work out regularly and eat lots of protein and produce. Last summer, I went to Canada, where I am from. It was a fantastic summer. I was able to catch up with a lot of family and friends – and eat a lot of yummy food that I don’t have access to here in Ireland. By the end of the summer, let’s just say my clothes were tighter. However, I viewed myself as being in shape but having gone off track, and it was very easy to bounce back to my healthy shape, size and lifestyle. Lifestyle being the key word, shape and size being the results of that lifestyle.
The good news is that you can choose to be the person you want to be. Sit down, write a list of characteristics that describe the person you want to be. Write down everything you love to do, the personality characteristics you would like to have and what type of person you would like to be in general. Put it in writing. Read them over for the next few days, or re-write the list, enforcing your new identity within your heart. Make a list of what actions this type of person (the new you) would do…and little by little start making choices to act in line with the person you have chosen to be.
Set a schedule, not a deadline
I confess, I stole that heading directly from James Clear, whose writings I highly recommend (www.jamesclear.com).
James Clear studies and writes about changing habits. He points out that people often inadvertently set themselves up for failure by focusing on the desired result rather than creating a habit. For example, one might say, I want to lose 20 pounds by July, and then be discouraged as the only way to reach this goal is through extreme changes. Most people can be extreme for a very short time and then chalk their failure up to not having enough will-power. Instead of creating a deadline, how about creating a healthy habit schedule – for example, going to the gym Monday, Wednesday and Friday. By focusing on the actions rather than the results, the repeated actions become a lifestyle, and the desired results will naturally follow.
Create an environment to succeed
Truth be told, if you are addicted to chocolate and your cupboards are full of chocolate, it is going to be extremely hard to stop eating chocolate. However, if every time you want chocolate you have to go outside to the shed, or get in the car and go to the shop, chances are that it will be much easier to resist that chocolate craving.
One of the most practical tools, in creating new habits, is creating an environment that is conducive to success.
I read of one man who found he always got distracted browsing the Internet when he sat down to write. He fixed this by creating an environment that helped him stay on task. He decided to use his desktop computer for writing, and nothing else. He used his laptop for things like e-mail, and any reading or browsing was done on his tablet. This way, whenever he sat at his desktop, he was instantly in the zone to write. Maya Angelou also created an environment that correlated with writing, by going daily to a hotel room she kept solely for that purpose.
James Clear, whom I mentioned earlier, talks about placing his dental floss with his toothpaste when he was trying to create a habit of flossing his teeth.
Simple adjustments to our environment can set us up for success.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.