How can we change our habits - in business and in our personal lives?

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This morning I was listening to a podcast with Tim Ferris, author of The Four Hour Work Week, and a lot of what he said resonated with my thoughts so far this January. My motto for the start of the year has been:


Tim Ferris talked about how we can learn a new skill or behaviour by approaching it in a new or different way. He uses the analogy of learning to cook (which is his new book The Four Hour Chef) and says that people who want to learn to cook aren't put off because cooking itself is hard, but by the inconvenience of learning. It may be a faff to make sure you have all of the ingredients, you may hate wasting the products you don't use again, you may try a recipe that is too complicated and fail too soon etc. These are called failure points, and you need to work on removing the failure points to allow success.

I reflected on my new interest in working out at the gym. I had wanted to get back into the gym for a couple of years, as I have enjoyed it in the past. So what had stopped me? It wasn't that the gym itself was too hard, it was the failure points getting in my way.

So what are some of the failure points that stop people exercising, despite having a strong desire to change their bodies?

They may include: Cost of membership and kit, the inconvenience of getting to the activity, fear of being too crap, fear of injury, being too tired to go after work, a fear of bulking up, starting but getting no results, worry over being embarrassed in your gym gear etc.

How did I remove my failure points? I found a cheap local gym, which allows you to cancel at any time - no fear of wasting money. I found a gym that I could walk to in about 4 minutes. I bought second hand kit (I will reward myself with new kit if I prove I am sticking to it). I stuck to the weights I knew to gain confidence, before trying the more scary ones. I changed my diet so that I had more energy and no longer wanted to fall asleep as soon as I got in.

Apparently Nike found that it took five running sessions to form a habit. I had decided to just focus on creating a habit too, which meant going to the gym regularly but not overly worrying about what I did when I was there. It didn't matter if I wasn't pushing myself hard enough to start, I just needed to get to the gym - regularly. To create the habit. The rest could come later.

Tim reflected that if we fail at something at the start, we quit. So we need to build in easy successes at the start to motivate us to keep going. I knew that my arms gain definition very quickly when lifting weights, so I allowed myself to focus on them for my first few visits. I would get a quick visual result, which would then motivate to continue (and allow me to gain the new habit quickly). I'm now moving on to the areas which take longer to see a visual proof of success. If I need to be reminded that what I am doing is impacting my body, I lift weights for my arms again. Seeing the muscle definition gets me back on the machines I don't enjoy as much.

On the show, Tim also talked about working out which areas we should start to change/learn first. The sequence we choose to attack something new can have a big impact on how successful we are. He gave the example of learning to play chess. Usually you start from the beginning of the game, with all of the pieces lined up. You need to learn each of the piece's moves, which is a lot of information to take in when it's all alien to you! He talked about learning from the end game instead. Having just the kings and a pawn allows you to quickly experience some of the drama of the game, and the general principles of it. You can then work backwards, adding in more pieces. This apparently have proved far more successful as a strategy to learn the game.

It got me thinking.....

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What can I learn from my change in diet and fitness and apply to business in general?

 1. Sometimes we just have to stop thinking and planning and focus on what actions we can take now. What would someone who ran your business counterpart (but bigger and better) do? Just do what they'd do, without overthinking it. I am well aware this has limits, but it can always be applied in small doses. Back to the gym analogy - what would a gym bunny do? They'd get their kit and go to the gym. I can choose to act as if I were a gym bunny, even if I don't feel like one.

2. What are the failure points that are stopping you from moving towards a goal? Can you eliminate them one by one? What actions will allow you to move forward? Do you need to try and meet more people? Do you need to send more emails out to the right people? Do you need to improve your SEO? When you have a to do list which always seems to contain the same things, perhaps take time to reflect on what has been stopping you ticking them off. Is it time? How about banning tv for a week to gain hours of extra time (for example).

3. The bigger picture can be simply too big. We can only change one thing at a time. If you focus on creating the habit first, you can fine tune the details later. Or if you want to get better at social media, perhaps choose one element at a time. Look for the stepping stones which will eventually become a wall of awesome.

4. Can you create easy successes along the way to the end goal? It's hard to stay motivated without positive feedback. If you want to get stocked in a department store, don't forget to celebrate just getting an email response from one as a step forward. Be your own cheerleader.

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5. Approach the task from a different angle. There are normally accepted and regular ways of doing things, but this doesn't mean they are always the best ways, if you have been putting of a job, are there any other ways you can attack it? For example I changed my diet by focusing on adding foods, rather than any restrictions or taking away. I worked on adding more good things and more protein, without telling myself anything wasn't allowed. If I want chocolate or cake I can have them, but oddly, due to going to the gym, they just seem less appealing now. I am enjoying adding new vegetables and protein options, and don't feel deprived at all. 

What are your failure points? Listing them and attacking them one by one can prove pretty successful!