Most of us have something we're eager to accomplish; whether it be a novel rattling around inside our heads or a deep-seeded desire to learn the guitar or pick up a meditation practice. We get jazzed, we're ready to go. We hit the gym for a week, we buy that guitar or that mediation app. Yeah! This is going to be great!
Then we stop.
I'm here to tell you that it's not you. It's your habits. With the right information, anyone can change their behavior and accomplish their dreams. Here’s a short three-step process to help you get started.
Step One: Don't Take it Personally
I believe that the ability to change is a learned skill and not an inborn trait. As a former drug addict, I can tell you from experience that massive personal improvement is possible with hard work.
You should therefore approach tasks through a growth mindset, not a fixed one. Simply put, the fixed mindset says, "I'm just not a motivated person." The growth mindset says, "Well, I could be motivated if I work at it." The fixed mindset keeps us stuck. The growth mindset helps propel us forward.
Bottom line: You are not a person who is inherently bad at follow-through; you just may not have had much success with it so far. You might lack the proper resources or approach — the next two steps will help you develop these tools.
Step Two: Break it Down. Now Break it Down Some More.
I am the host of a podcast called The One You Feed, which features weekly conversations with thought leaders about how to create lives worth living.
I’ve been helping people make behavioral changes for years — whether it's breaking addictions to drugs and alcohol or smaller tasks like building exercise habits or finishing creative work. I've learned that the key to making lasting change is to break things down into really small steps. Most people want to start at point A and jump to Point Z. Jimi Hendrix didn’t go from strumming to shredding overnight and, sorry to say, neither will you.
Take the piece of work you have in front of you — be it a chapter outline, a workout or a meditation practice — and break it down into the smallest possible increments you can. Small. Chewable. As Leo Babuta of Zen Habits says, "Make it so easy you can't say no."
Let's say you really want to take up a meditation practice, and you’re just not making any progress with it. By taking your meditation goals one step at a time instead, you'll be able to slowly accomplish them.
The first tiny step could be to identify what type of meditation you'd like to practice. Once you do that, proceed to step two and decide when and where you'll meditate. The final step might then be to meditate every day for the rest of the week in that spot, at that time, for as little as one minute a day. The length of time doesn't matter — the important thing is that you build the muscle of doing something on a regular basis.
Bottom line: It's far better to start really small than to start larger and fail. When you do something small consistently, it creates momentum that you can build upon over time. This type of consistency allows you to take small changes and eventually turn them into larger ones.
Step Three: Never Miss Twice.
As you work on changing your habits, you may not stick to your routine every single day at first. Don't let this discourage you. Watch out for the all or nothing or screw it syndrome, and make consistency something to strive for.
When you break your challenge into simple steps, be aware of that naysayer in your brain. It may be saying something like, "If you're trying to get healthy, there's no point in starting by exercising five minutes a day. Why bother?"
Don't let this voice stop you in your tracks. While five minutes of exercise won't make you a healthy person in the grand scheme of things, it's an important step. It's how you're building consistency. Once you start and stop many projects, you begin to stop trusting yourself. Consistency brings back that trust and breeds confidence that you can attain your goals.
You are not destined to fail at making behavior changes. Your past failures are not an indication of who you are, but of the way you approach daunting challenges. Now, with this new mindset, you can stand up to these challenges with confidence.
Bottom line: Whatever it is, you can do it.
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