How Can We Create Good Habits?

During the first months of a new year, many of us make resolutions and unfortunately, break them soon thereafter. But what if we focus on creating good habits instead? How will that help us with Active Wellness? The dictionary defines a habit as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” Habits can therefore be good or bad.

Jeff Isom, Chancellor of Nikken University, recently sent me a couple of YouTube links to hear some TED talks about creating good habits. If you have time, you might want to take a listen, but here’s a summary that will just take a few minutes to read.

Stephen Duneier is an exceptionally successful corporate executive who started out as a C student in school. By the time he was a junior in high school, he decided to make a change. He says that his main challenge was that he could never focus on anything for more than five to 10 minutes at a time. How did he change that behavior to become an A student, get into a renowned college and eventually lead hundreds of employees in various companies?

Because he could not change his short attention span, he made the decision to complete all homework and in later years, tasks, in five to 10 minute increments. That means he would “work” the length of his attention span, then do something else. The important change he made was to return to the work at hand for another five to 10 minute stretch, do something else, and repeat. In this way, he managed to complete everything he was responsible for. He emphasizes that even as an executive, he continued to use this system of focusing five to 10 minutes at a time. This way of focusing became his lifelong habit.

By breaking down seemingly unattainable goals into small manageable decisions, he was able to accomplish his goals. He says, “Marginal improvement leads to huge impact.” In other words, marginal adjustments in a daily routine can make big things happen. He gives the example of having learned German by making the small change of listening to language lessons instead of music every time he was hiking or during “free time.”

Author of Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg contends that even the tiniest behaviors have life-changing potential. He explains that there are basically two ways to implement long-term change. One way is to change your environment, both social and otherwise; and the other is to make tiny changes over and over again to create new habits. Obviously, changing the environment is not always possible, but making tiny changes is do-able.

He personally got into better physical shape by creating the habit of doing pushups every day. He notes that he didn’t buy a gym membership that he would never use; nor did he put himself on a strenuous regimen. He created his fitness habit by implementing his system of “before” and “after.” The “before” refers to any current behavior or habit, while the “after” refers to the future, or the habit that is going to be created. In his case, he stated to himself: “After I pee, I will do two pushups.” By linking the habit he wanted to create with something he already did regularly, he was able to work up to doing 40 pushups at a time and maintain his desired physical condition. BJ Fogg says that by applying the before and after system to create tiny habits, we really can accomplish whatever we set out to do.

Similarly, Atomic Habits by James Clear, tells us that the tiniest habits can be life-changing. He defines an atomic habit as “a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do but is also the source of incredible power, a component of the system of compound growth.”1 He explains that what seem to be small and unimportant changes can compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.

Clear encourages us to focus on the system and process of changing rather than on what we want to achieve. In fact, he states categorically that to obtain better results in creating good habits, “forget about setting goals and focus on your system instead. Focus not on what you want to achieve but on who you wish to become” because “habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.”2

The ways of creating good habits posed by the TED talks as well as by James Clear parallel the variety of self-development exercises presented in Humans Being More training. Go to the Nikken shopping cart and look under Training and Self-Development to register for the next online classes: January 30, 2021 hosted by Barb Satterwhite at 10 am Eastern and February 13, 2021 hosted by Michele Kowalchuk at 10 am Pacific.

Stephen Duneier TEDxTucson

BJ Fogg at TEDxFremont

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