By: Justin Hill
I’ve been thinking about habits a lot lately. Habits (whether that's adding a new habit, replacing an old habit, or changing an existing one) have been a fascination of mine for, well, my entire adult life. Why? Because habits seem to predicate a lot. There’s a multitude of information out there on huge topics like diet and exercise, relationships, happiness, self-esteem, and even an area dedicated to providing you with information on how to better yourself called self-development.
What does it all mean? What’s the answer to these things? How do I achieve (blank), or stay away from (blank), etc. etc.?
Well, for one thing, part of the answer is understanding habits. That is, knowing how your habits work, how they form, and how to change them for the better - whether that is to maintain a certain weight, to become "happier", to find that special someone, or something like feeling better about yourself and your life circumstances.
While I am not going to focus on any of the big areas named above, I will provide something that I believe is important in anything – including habits. That is, a framework. Specifically, a framework from Switch by Chip & Dan Heath.
Whether your issue is breaking a habit or forming a new one, the Switch framework will give you something solid to work from, something concrete. Without a focus – a framework – you will just be like a fish floundering outside of the water, breathing your last breath, while not sure where to flop about to get back to the water.
Take back the power and use this framework to flop in the right direction so you can make it back to the water and swim upstream.
The Switch Framework
The framework in Switch contains three main points:
Each of the following sections will cover three parts of the Switch framework.
Directing the Rider (You)
The first thing to do is to locate and follow the "bright spots." Bright spots are things in the past that worked, especially with changing a habit. Things that worked well when changing, introducing, or replacing an old habit.
Look for situations in your past that worked well. Read stories of others that talk about how they dealt with habit change and replicate what they did that was successful.
The second thing is to script your critical moves. Don't overwhelm yourself with looking at the whole picture at once, or get bogged down in vague language like "I want to look better" for a diet and exercise example. Instead, get specific:
I want to lose 5 pounds."
Third, point to the destination. This kind of bleeds into the scripting of critical moves, but it is more concrete. It’s kind of like the “why” of doing something. I also think this part is the motive as well.
My own example involves a motive of wanting to attract women. I exercise because my motive is to look and feel better so I can attract and date women I am interested in. Some may say this is superficial. But, it is one of my main motivations for working out - and it’s what gets me there. To some it is feeling better about themselves, to others it may be the overall happiness they achieve from it.
The point of this part is to know where you’re going and why. If your critical move is to lose 5 pounds, then you have a specific goal, and you know your ultimate destination will involve a plan of working out and eating better.
Why? Because you’re fed up with your body shape, or you want something more positive in your life – you want to be healthier. Whatever the reason, you need to make sure you're doing the things that work, you script your critical moves, and know your ultimate destination.
Motivating the Elephant (Your Emotions)
First, find the feeling. It’s not just important to know something, you have to feel it in your gut.
Recall the article on the psychological, physical, and emotional (PPE) model. The emotional part of that model is the most influential for a reason. If you can make yourself feel strongly toward a new habit (or replacing an old one), your "elephant" is much more likely to behave and move in a direction that is helpful, not hurtful.
Second, shrink the change. This is nothing more than breaking down your huge problem into executable chunks so the elephant isn’t scared and doesn’t take you on a wild ride (because emotions can do that).
For example, for your new exercise routine, take a 5-minute walk to start off with, instead of taclking your whole 1-hour walk.
Third, grow your people. You can change how you think about yourself (e.g., your identification, your self-esteem). And, with a growth mindset (a mindset that believes change is possible, that who you are – your qualities, characteristics, etc. – is not static, but malleable) you can actually bring about habit change, and maintain them over the long haul.
Shape the Path - Ride the Elephant to Victory
Shaping your path involves riding your elephant down a path that you have deliberately shaped.
First, you need to tweak your environment. As the book states:
“When the situation changes, the behavior changes. So change the situation.”
I always wanted to drink a liter of water when waking up, but I always had a hard time building the habit.
I bought a liter jug, filled it with water, and put it in my path of going to use the bathroom and brush my teeth in the morning. Done.
I’ve been doing that for the past 5 years or so, and I don’t think about it anymore. I Just pour my jug of water and drink it in the morning. To this day, I still drink the water, and I don't even have to think about. It's a habit I've built and maintained – a healthy one. It's also automatic, which is the power of habits (at least, the positive, productive ones).
Second, build habits. Ironically, Switch, is about changing, building, and maintaining habits. So, it makes sense that “building habits” would eventually come about. Building habits is more about making the intended behavior habitual. When you make it habitual, in essence, it’s “free” – it doesn’t exhaust the rider (you).
I like the use of Switch using the concept of checklists. Instead of thinking of all the things you have to do, make a checklist. That way you know what needs to be done and have a list to check off from. Check!
The third and final point, rally the heard. Surround yourself around others that radiate the behavior change you want to achieve and you are more likely to not only change, but maintain that behavior. Include helping others make a similar change, and it will reinforce your own maintenance of your behavior change.
That’s the Switch framework in a nutshell, and a great way to bring about and maintain behavior change (or habits).
If you’re frustrated with making, replacing, or maintaining habits in your life, then consider using this framework to help you along your way.
Let me know how it works, or what other materials you’ve used to bring about your habit change.
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