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"What To Do When Willpower Doesn’t Work," by Kate Towell

Habit change science is fascinating and explains a lot about why motivation alone is not enough to create lasting change. Image courtesy of Kate Towell.
Habit change science is fascinating and explains a lot about why motivation alone is not enough to create lasting change. Image courtesy of Kate Towell.

The following article is being reproduced with permission of its author, Kate Towell. Kate is a holistic wellness counselor who supports individuals to create the balanced, vibrant life they imagine.

The past few months I have been reading books and listening to loads of podcasts on habit change science. Yes, it is a science and it’s fascinating stuff.

Today I listened to a super cool podcast with BJ Fogg, a behavior scientist and author of “Tiny Habits.”  I wanted to share my main take-aways from the talk and why it inspired me to start doing ten jumping jacks every time I flush the toilet.

Our daily lives are filled with a series of habits. Almost every habit that you have — good or bad — is the result of many small decisions you make over time. To become healthier, we need to design our daily life around the habits that build a healthier more energetic body, reduce stress and create better relationships. Living an Ayurvedic lifestyle, at its root, is about shaping your day into a series of good choices.

The question is how do we do that?

Know what you want

Identifying your specific desired outcome is the first step in creating new habits. Do you want to feel less stressed at work, get more exercise or eat better?

BJ Fogg recommends being specific with your goals. Let’s take getting more exercise for example; rather than saying I want to exercise more regularly, try something more specific like I am committed to getting 30 minutes of movement in each day.

Make it simple to take action

When we commit to change it is exciting at first and in the beginning motivation is high. But change can be overwhelming, especially when we take on too much too soon. We know that motivation tends to go down over time. Dr. Fogg recommends planning for times of low motivation by making the action super simple and by breaking it down into smaller more manageable steps.

Start with small behaviors (tiny habits) that you want to do. In the example of getting 30 minutes of exercise first choose movement that you can do, you like to do, and is realistic to do.

Personally, I don’t like running especially on a treadmill but I do like walking outdoors. So I would first commit to doing a ten-minute walk three days a week. Once you succeed at this tiny habit be patient and trust the process. More movement will naturally happen.

Identify the prompt

To be most successful you need to place your new habit strategically in your day. The prompt is the thing you do just prior to your new habit. It’s an action you already are doing and that is automated. Here’s where the jumping jacks come in.

BJ gave an example in the podcast of committing to do five pushups and five squats after he goes to the bathroom. He found that on average most people pee seven times a day and that five of those were during daylight. At the end of the day his tiny habit of five pushups and five squats led to 25 of each. As a result, he found he was stronger and more motivated to do other types of exercise. I simply swapped the pushups and squats for jumping jacks and so far I’m loving it.

Celebrate your success

It’s super important to celebrate each time you do the new habit. It’s the emotion that builds the new neuro networks in the brain (Dr. Joe Dispenza talks about this a lot). Watch babies. When they walk, get up, crawl or try any new behavior and succeed they smile, they clap, they bounce up and down. They celebrate, and the positive emotion reinforces the behavior. Each and every time you do your new habit tell yourself good job, give yourself a high five, do a little dance. Do whatever it takes to associate a positive emotion with the new behavior.

Habit change science is fascinating and explains a lot about why motivation alone is not enough to create lasting change. If you’re interested in learning more on the subject check out books and podcasts with BJ Fogg, James Clear, Charles Duhigg, and my most recent favorite “Will Power Doesn’t Work” by Benjamin Hardy.

Or schedule a discovery session with me to talk about your habits.

Wishing you Vibrant Living