As I entered Spring Cleaning time, I made a little round-up of my past habits and resolutions, and noticed there were two kinds of habits - the daily, "low energy" ones I carry on daily without giving it much thought, and the harder, "high energy" ones I can't seem to apply as easily. Here are some tips to help kickstarting those harder habits sitting in the to-dos.
It is a bit simplistic to just cut the habits in two categories, the easy and the hard ones. I think the truth is, there is a sort of "energy" meter of how much effort you have to put into a habit, the lower end being "I'm used to this and do it daily automatically" (ex: brushing your teeth), the higher end being "I wish I could implement this in my life (ex: exercise more, start a new activity, learn something new...)
- The "High Energy" Habits
Today, I'd like to talk about the habits at the higher end of the energy meter, the ones that require your time, attention, resources to start and maintain. Often, these habits are hard to start, because you need to make time for them, or research where to go, how to do... In other words, they put you out of your comfort zone, and there are a lot of barriers that keep you from actually diving into them.
Example: Starting a new activity. When I decided to play the violin again, this meant I needed to find and buy a new violin (which I had no idea where to get or how much to pay to get a decent one), plus find a teacher, close to my home and office, at a reasonable price, for weekly lessons. It took me over a year from the "decision" to play the violin again to my first lesson with my teacher.
- Using Marketing Tricks as a Help
First, let me give you some context. Among the various aspects of marketing, there are some very straightforward actions which short term goal is to make potential consumers take the leap and actually make a purchase. Flash sales anyone? As a part of a bigger marketing campaign or business model, these actions have one goal: making you buy it now. And for this, they have one objective: reducing the barriers between the consumer and the purchase action to make it as easy as possible to buy it.
While I am not going to detail each marketing action I have learned or used in the past, I have decided to tweak these techniques to lower the barriers to purchase and make it easier to trigger the purchase and present them to you below as tips to trigger your good habits instead.
1. Know Your BarriersWhat are the barriers that make it so hard for you to start this habit? In marketing, getting to know a consumer's barriers is the first step to lowering them. For example, for online clothing purchases, the barrier can be that you're not sure it fits. No problem, let's make returns free! (gg Asos)
You get the idea. For your hard habit, it's the same, what are your barriers? Are they psychological (you think you aren't capable of it or fear to fail?), are they practical (lack of time, money, information...), are they linked to your personality (too shy to go somewhere new...)?
For me, I know my major barrier is my introvert personality and my wanting to limit contacts with unknown humans as much as possible. The habits that took the most time to form are the ones that involved calling, meeting new people (for example, a violin teacher...)
Once you know your barriers, you can start applying strategies to lower them, and make the start and continuation of the new habit as easy and comfortable as possible.
2. Do Your ResearchThat strategy works very well for me - when you are trying to do something new, you often don't know where to start. You don't know where to go, how much it will cost, how it works... A first action to do in order to lower this barrier of the unknown is to gather information about that habit you want to start.
Want to change your diet? Go to the internet and look for books, sites, blogs that discuss about healthy eating habits and find one that seems to make sense for you, your values, ethics, goals and lifestyle.
Want to donate, sell or repair your items? Google a cobbler/seamstress/repairman near your home, get information on how you can sell your items as easily as possible, what charities you can donate them to and how it works.
Want to start or restart an activity or project? Get information on associations around you, what material you may need to get started, how much a class/teacher costs.
This is an easy step - just a bit of time and a computer, which shouldn't be very hard to find. It doesn't force you to spend any money, doesn't require you to go anywhere, to change anything in your daily habits yet, or to talk to any unknown human being (although you can call places within your research process).
I personally like to find specialized sites or blogs who actually gather the research for me, so much easier. Of course, it doesn't mean I'd blindly believe what they say, but if the site is reliable, there will be some additional sources to read from, resources, books, and useful summary articles where they share the results of their own research, which is nice. You can take a look at my source page for some sites about simplicity, health, food, wardrobe editing, or even forming habits, as a matter of fact.
3. Prepare the StepsA key element for marketers who are trying to trigger purchases, is to make the steps to purchase very simple, and few, if possible. Any good online site has no more than 2 or 3 clicks between you and the "Order" button. Buying a digital game or downloadable contents on the Xbox is insanely easy (poor parents).
Your steps to practice your habit have to be clear and simple as well. Where do you need to go? When is it open? What do you need? Select your steps and make them as easy as possible. In the blog Nerd Fitness, Steve presents the Batcave for Habit Change, and one of his key tips is to make the access to your habit as easy as possible. Want to practice guitar every day? Put the guitar in the middle of the living room, in plain sight, easy to grab.
When you are about to donate some items - after doing your research, put the address and opening hours of the charity shop on your notebook/smartphone, put the bag of items to donate near your front door, and next time you go out, take that bag with you and bring it to the charity shop. Easy.
If you are about to change your food habits - select some easy "rules", I'm sure you can unearth some simple guides to healthy eating on the internet for example. Apply them one at a time and make it easy to apply - by cooking simple dishes and not 3-star chef 2 hour expert thing. By adapting the rules to your lifestyle so you can stick to them without extra daily effort.
You get the idea. When I decided to play the violin again, once I had bought the violin, I started searching for a teacher, and I decided my main criteria would be that either he can come in my appartment, or he lives in the area between work and home so I can easily go to my lesson on my way home in the evening.
4. Get Some HelpSometimes, it's just easier to do it with friends. Marketers know it, and they love friend recommendations, you know, invite a friend and you both get 20% off kind of deal. It's the same for daily habits.
It can be a friend who wants to start along with you. You have the same level, and both need a bit of extra motivation to take the step - then do it together, you'll motivate each other when the other one feels like skipping.
It can also be a friend who practices the habit for a while, who knows where to go, what to do, how it works. It can be reassuring if he/she gives you tips and recommendations, or even if he/she comes with you the first time. For example, it took me 6 months to go to my office's gym, because I never went to any gym ever before, and it was full of unknown humans. So a colleague, who was going every week, took me with him one day. I go there every week automatically now.
If you don't have friends who are familiar with your habits or want to start it with you, don't hesitate to connect with like minded people online. That's the magic of the internet. Go to sites and blogs, ask people for recommendations, join forums if necessary, motivate each other online... There are a lot of resources out there, for all kinds of habits.
5. Schedule ItDoing the research, preparing the steps, getting the recommendations and partners in crime is all good, but at one point, you'll have to take that first step and do it. Marketers know that too, and always make it easier, more appealing to buy now and not later. Newsletters with a "Call to Action" such as a "Shop Now" button, promotions & sales valid for a few days only, or controlled stocks to make pieces out of stock quickly, all kinds of strategies are deployed to make you buy now.
It's the same for the new habit, at some point, you'll have to do it now. When I have a lot of chores and high energy habits to engage in, I make a list, and schedule them over time. "This week, I do the taxes, next week, I take my pants to the seamstress, and the week after I start researching ways to sell my clothes easily". You see what I mean?
Once you have done all the research and planning, schedule when you will actually start. Sunday is a market day? Start your new food habits and recipes on Sunday with the market produce. Need to donate that bag of clothes? Put the bag near your front door and go take them tomorrow on your way to work.
Scheduling the first step of the habit makes it more concrete, and doable. You don't have to revamp all your food habits on Sunday, you only have to go to the market, buy seasonal veggies and cook them. Easy, no? My experience is, if you have prepared your steps, and gathered your allies, once the first step is engaged, the next ones tend to follow easily. If they don't, schedule them too.
As a Last Word...
I think, at least in my experience, that the biggest barrier to new habits it to simply think I can't do it. If you let yourself be discouraged because you failed the first time or because it takes a long while to adapt and adjust, then you will stop trying altogether and that's how the new habit fails.
I would recommend to remove that barrier right away by acknowledging that you can do it. With your own steps, at your own pace, but you can do it. And any failure is an opportunity to learn what doesn't work and find out what works instead. For example, I failed at practising sports for years because I was persuaded that I wasn't "made" for it. But once I removed that barrier (by watching the paralympics, by the way), I kickstarted the sports habit, little by little, and now I'm going to the gym several times a week and can run over 10kms, which is a big deal for me.
What about you? What are your high energy habits that end up on your to-do lists or resolutions? Does this help?