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Breaking Bad Habits

Learn simple steps to keep your good habits and ditch your bad ones!

Because if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got

As a topical example, why do New Year’s Resolutions slip?

With the arrival of the New Year and the tradition of resolutions, we are reminded again and again of many people’s new resolve to change habitual lifestyle choices that have led to less than happy current realities. Statistically the most popular of these is fitness and weight loss (there are many others as well but let’s focus on this one for now).

As mentioned above, we do not become overweight overnight, nor do we lose fitness in the same way. These conditions are achieved by dedicated application of habitual behaviour. The only challenge is, that if the ultimate goal is to stay lean and fit, the application is misguided.

So why does this happen?  Can it be the case that we secretly want to be unfit and overweight?

Probably not.

Many would say that life ‘just gets in the way’, that life ‘is hard enough without putting oneself through denial’ and that a little comfort-eating and drinking is the only thing that makes it all bearable. It may indeed be partly due to stress-relief that we reach for our favourite ‘guilty pleasure’ a little more often than we should.

I feel, additionally, that we live in a modern world of instant gratification, of ready meals from ‘little’ or ‘local’ or ‘express’ variations of the supermarket giants, swimming in saturated fat; of fast food chains appearing everywhere, with the focus on ‘anything you could possibly want – NOW!’ In other words, we are conditioned to behave in a certain way by our culture and stimuli.

Lastly (and if this were not enough) we are provided with hundreds of TV channels and films on demand, just begging us to sink into sedentary inactivity after our hard days’ work at our desks.

Think of our society. As children, we are conditioned to rely on others. We have a dependency mindset, created by others telling us what to do and when to do it. ‘Sit down, stand up, eat your greens, brush your teeth’ – and so on.  It’s not surprising that we develop habitual patterns, designed and developed by others that we simply don’t question, because these things have become part of our daily routine.

Now we’re not saying that the habits formed are necessarily bad – they’re not. In fact, most of them are good, resourceful behaviour patterns that serve us well.

The challenge with cultural conditioning, however, is that whilst it serves to shield us from inconsistency, it also prevents us from ‘tweaking’ habits that we may have outgrown, or from improving the efficiency of what we have learned long ago and forgotten the ingredients of.

In the course of my career I have worked with and used several different models to explain the value of self-awareness and the pitfalls of ignorance, or complacency. The overarching favourite amongst these has been the ‘Learning Journey’ or the ‘Four Steps to Learning’ (the journey from Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence), accompanied by the knowledge that life is cumulative: –  Success in any area of life – or its’ counterpart, is the result of consistent patterns of behaviour, either as a daily discipline or as a daily small error in judgement.

So, bearing in mind the statistic that gyms are brimming with new members in January and empty again by mid-march, how do we combat this modern day epidemic?

And more importantly, if we want to develop our skills and diminish our bad habits around public speaking and communication, how do we make sure we are on track? 

Goal setting – Understand the what and the why

There is a way to stay in control of our daily habits so that they remain disciplines and don’t slip into habitual errors.

  1. Make sure you are absolutely clear as to what your goal is and critically WHY it’s important to achieve it.
  2. Write down your reasons and keep them somewhere visible. This will give you emotional buy-in and keep you motivated. So long as you remain inspired by your goal and what this will do for you, or give you, the whole process becomes much easier.
  3. Give yourself small ‘incremental’ targets along the way to your objective. This aligns with the old adage ‘you can’t eat an elephant in one go, but piece by piece’. Your mind will appreciate small, manageable targets on the road to your ultimate goal.
  4. Celebrate your successes. This isn’t just ‘the big stuff’, like losing a kilo, but more about ‘following through’ with food moderation, with applied exercise, especially when it’s difficult to do so. It’s all too easy to forget to pat yourself on the back for applying discipline.
  5. Make notes of your successes and critically, the areas where you may be starting to slip, and change accordingly. It’s very important to write this down, a discipline in itself. You will then have evidence in black and white to support your daily discipline.

This sounds easier than it actually is, of course, but the key is to have a goal or a target that inspires you to firstly take action, and secondly, that keeps you going and digging deep.

What’s your story? Do you have any success stories we could learn from? We’d love to hear from you…

Or why not download my Free -e-book – A.G.E.N.D.A and find out how to set realistic, everyday goals and see them through

Oliver Medill

Public speaking coach, mentor and evangelist. Author of the book The Impact Formula. Get it here!