How to Develop Habits that Will Change Your Life

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"Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing." Vince Lombardi

I am living proof that what I’m about to tell you is true. I’ve been waiting a year to let you in on this secret, but now it is finally time.

A plumber’s leaky faucets and a physician's exercise habits

Even though I learned years ago about the benefits of exercise, throughout my life I’ve been inconsistent at best. In fact, my all time “days-in-a-row” record was five days — when I was a gymnast in high school. Bam! Today, at 60 years old, I obliterated that record when I hit 365 days in a row. This post today is not about the benefits of exercise (although there are many); it’s about how to develop habits, so you can change your life.

A life well lived

There is something about hitting 60 that caused me to begin to ponder the idea of a “life well lived.” Perhaps that’s because it is difficult to claim to be “middle-aged” any longer. There are two ways to live: comparing myself to others and saying, “At least I’m not that bad” OR setting the goal of a “life well lived” and declaring, “When I grow up, I want to be like that!” It is a question worth pondering: Which way do you face? If you’re content to point to others and justify your current situation, you should stop reading now. The rest of this will make you uncomfortable.

Gamification

My exercise strategy shifted when I broke down and bought an Apple Watch. They have a gamification strategy that foundationally changed my approach to exercise.

I’m probably the only guy you know that has never won a trophy. Well, technically, that isn’t true. My buddies in high school went to the Goodwill, bought an old trophy, and put a label on it that said, “A Trophy for the Only Guy in the World Who Never Won a Trophy”. They had a big ceremony and presented it to me. It’s too bad that you missed it.

The Apple system sets up a game with three rings: hours up and moving, exercise, and active calories. The goal is to close all three rings before you go to bed every day. The first few days are the most difficult. After that, the streak becomes a huge motivator. There have been plenty of times when I didn’t want to exercise but I did it just to keep the streak going. The app is loaded with awards. Unlike my buddies and their trophies, I don’t have to find a shelf for them. They are in the app. They are much better looking than my old Goodwill trophy and they even have my name on them. The 365 photo at the top of this article is one of them.

Changing your habits

The power of The Streak

Don’t underestimate the power of “The Streak.” Once you get a few days under your belt, play the game and keep it going. After you have a couple of months, you won’t want to stop. In February, I developed the flu and then pneumonia. I overcame it and exercised despite feeling horrible. (This article should not be interpreted as medical advice, blah, blah. If you’re sick or before starting an exercise program, consult with your physician.)

If you are aiming to develop habits that are not fitness related, you can use an app like Streaksfn to track your progress. You can set it up to either automatically give you credit each day (and you tell it when you didn’t do it) or the other way around.

Accountability

Declare your intentions out loud. You can multiply the power of The Streak by sharing your results with a buddy. King Solomon said it best, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.”

Rewards & Consequences

According to Daniel Kahneman, we tend to be more motivated by the threat of losing something that gaining something.fn At Thought Leaders Business School, we declare three intentions at the beginning of each week. If we don’t accomplish them, we pay a $100 fine (that goes to support solar power for schools in the Outback of Australia). It is amazing how powerful that penalty can be. Are you serious about developing new habits?

5 Second Rule

Mel Robbins claims that new habits do not depend on “willpower.” Her her book, The 5-Second Rulefn (which has nothing to do with food on the floor) Robbins suggests that you schedule a new habit. When the alarm goes off, start a 5-second countdown out loud and then get up and do it. Wait longer than 5 seconds and your irrational brain will talk you out of it and tell you that you should start on another day. Give it a try. It is powerful! 5-seconds: 5,4,3,2,1 Do it! Bam!

How will you respond to the inner voice?

The status quo is tempting but not nearly as satisfying as making progress. Only you can decide if you are going to say, “At least I’m not that bad” or “When I grow up, I want to be like that!” Apathy VS Aspiration: Which will you choose. If you choose to go for the gusto, I would suggest that you start with one goal and do the following:

  1. Decide the goal and make it achievable.
  2. Recruit someone to hold you accountable.
  3. Put some skin in the game with a penalty if you don’t do it.
  4. Download the Streaks app (or the equivalent) and start playing the game.
  5. Use the 5-second rule to get yourself over the hump.

Please let me know how it goes in the comments below.


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