How to change bad habits

Habits are strong forces.

Everyone who has bad habits knows that. And don’t we all have bad habits?

But maybe, habits seem to be strong forces because we don’t know how they work, and instead spend our time fighting these habits. Wasting our energy, trying to change them, because we don’t understand how we got them or how to change them. I’m no expert on the subject, but I have found new good habits that are easy to stick too. And because of this, I have started to think about them. Among other things, I’m reading the blog Zenhabits.net, where Leo Babauta is writing about creating new, good habits. Check it out if you want some inspiration.?I believe that if we can understand how we got here, how habits work, we can use these same strategies to create good habits instead of remaining stuck in the bad ones.

I believe habits is not things of the past, something we got stuck with, but something we unconsciously reinforce right now, in the tiny decisions being made all the time without our conscious awareness. If we want to change something, we need to do it in equally small steps. One change at a time, one now at a time, letting it take time. You don’t go from nothing to running a marathon tomorrow. You start today, by going for a short run. You might have a long term goal of running a marathon in a year, but the important thing is wether you go for that run now or not. If you never do that run now, if you never begin, you will always remain where you are.
Usually there is an effort involved in the beginning, but as we get over the first horizon, it becomes a habit that work in the same direction as we do, and after a while, it is equally inconceivable to stop running as it was to start a couple of months back.?
That is how we got stuck in bad habits in the first place, and that is how we must get out of them.

If we want to start exercising, it is stupid to start doing it five times a week at top speed, usually all that leads to us quitting, giving it up altogether. The reason most people stop dieting is that it is too much of a difference, usually involving things we don’t even like. To stick to it we must rely solely on our will power, but as we go on we start hating what we do and no one has the will power to keep up for very long, something that we hate.
We fail. And having failed, we will sit there feeling sorry for ourselves, cursing our lack of character and discipline, thinking there is a difference between us and others who do succeed.

But it is not our character or lack of discipline that make us fail. Our failure is in our ignorance, not understanding habits, thinking we can force ourselves into something we dislike.
Our failure is built in from the beginning. We are doomed. We could just as well not have started it in the first place and saved our energy.

I have three principles that I stick to when trying to change my habits. If one of them is not there, I know it won’t work. These are:

Long-term

If I intend to change a habit, I only do it if I am willing to keep doing it for the rest of my life, otherwise, there is no use trying. If I am not willing to pay $150/mo for a personal trainer or punish myself in the gym, then I’ll just have to find some other kind of exercise. If I’m not willing to eat fruit every day for the rest of my life, I’ll have to find some other type of food that I’m willing to stick to. I do not believe in special diets that you stick to for a few months to loose weight if you are not intending to keep that same diet. You might loose weight, but it won’t teach you good habits, and when you stop, you go back to your old habits and start gaining weight again.

Small changes

Start small. Don’t change your entire diet, but just add some healthy things you enjoy eating. Start by exercising once a week , or walking for fifteen minutes a day, then add a little bit as you go. When you start something, there is always resistance. Running for ten kilometers, five times a week, will meet a lot of resistance if you have never run before, your mind will tell you to stop, that you have better things to do, not enough time etc., and soon you’ll start hating it and stop.
I started doing Yoga once a week in December and after about two months, suddenly all my resistance just dropped away and I couldn’t wait to do it again. I couldn’t do more than four times a week though, because after three days in a row, I had a hard time getting out of bed, because of sore muscles.?
But in about two months time, I no longer needed to motivate myself, or use will-power. I’m not doing Yoga anymore, now it is my Yoga doing me.

Focus on the positive

If we focus on loosing weight, it is something negative, it means a sacrifice, giving up the something we enjoy (eating). Sacrifice will create a lot of resistance, because no one wants to give up something they enjoy. When people go on a diet and they can’t eat this or that, it creates a huge internal battle. You have to force yourself to abstain from something that you desire. It is a battle of wills that you will loose.
If we instead focus on eating healthy food that we enjoy, or do things we enjoy doing that does not involve eating, we focus on the positive, the benefits of change. Instead of a sacrifice, we just do something we enjoy doing. It will probably still be an effort in the beginning, until we have passed the first obstacles, but the resistance will be easier to handle.
I found out that I usually got cravings for food or sugar when I was bored or felt lonely. Today, I’m neither bored nor lonely and my bad eating habits seem to have disappeared like a miracle. I have no rules that I’m not allowed to eat something, I’m not trying to abstain or go against my desires, things just seem to work on their own accord.

I’m not writing this because I’m an expert about changing habits, it is still very much an on-going process, but at the moment, how we seem to work regarding this fascinates me a lot. So I thought it could be interesting to share a few ideas I have around this.

Do you have any ideas yourself how to make changes? Write in the comments…

More on motivation

 

A friend sent me a link to a youtube clip I have published earlier, in July when I was in Thailand.
It is about motivation and basically saying the same thing I wrote the other day about the subject.

What is it really that makes us motivated? What is important?

EBITA 10% (earnings before the deduction of interest, tax and amortization expenses). Is that a goal? Yes, it is. But it is not a goal that is relevant and important for most people in an organization. It is not a goal that suddenly creates motivation. It is rather a goal that shows the distance between the company board and the people set to do the work. A huge distance.
What kind of company would have that as a goal?

Not yours I hope.

Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

 

Motivation

 

This friday we had a workshop at work discussing motivation. An open, constructive afternoon.
But often, we talk about subjects without actually going deep into them to see what they really are about.

Motivation has always been very interesting to me. Interesting enough to warrant a big part of my psychology studies to the subject. To ask questions such as what motivates people? How do you get motivated? And what works against our motivation?

But to ask what motivates us, is to miss the point of what motivation is.

We do not become motivated, we are motivated.
Motivation is our natural state. A person is never completely motionless, but always in some kind of motion. Therefore, we do not have to motivate ourselves, what we need is to get rid of the obstacles that is suffocating our natural motivation.
Sometimes you hear the expression that “people are lazy by nature”, but that is in fact a invalid statement. We are by nature energy conservative, our bodies and minds are constructed in such a way as to minimize energy consumption, but that is far from being the same thing as lazy. To be lazy is to avoid work or movement at all costs and that is something we learn early on in life.

Just think about a newborn. Have you ever seen a baby that is not curious to explore it’s surroundings?
Of course, that doesn’t mean that all people running from one activity to the next is necessarily more motivated than others or that people laying in the hammock reading is lazy. Motivated people cannot necessarily be seen on the outside.

The question we should ask ourselves is not how to motivate people, but rather how we create an environment where peoples natural motivation springs forward.
At the workshop, I used the concept of “get out of my way”, och it basically means to minimize bureaucracies, hierarchies and obstacles so that the individual feel they are as autonomous as possible and in a position to make decisions about their own lives and work. This is why self-employed people are almost always more productive than employees and why small companies are usually more effective and large companies.
Unfortunately, this is not always possible in all situations, in part because of the fact that we sometimes has to accept a certain level of bureaucracy and structure to be able to organize things but in part also because a lot of people more or less has lost the ability to be self-motivated. If there is no external pressure, they won’t do a thing and if you give them too much freedom, the develop anxieties and insecurity.
I notice in myself how much I have changed the last years only. Before I enjoyed routine work more, but now I find it to be a burden. I want more freedom and a greater possibility to choose what to do with my time.

Some of the things that showed up during our talk was our paycheck and the physical work environemnt. A lot of people think that money is always motivating, but money is not a factor of motivation, the important thing is how it is used. If you leave for work every day, getting the same paycheck every month, your motivation is hardly affected at all by money.
Maybe you would be motivated the first month, but after that, you take it for granted. Because you expect to get paid for your work. It is a prerequisite for showing up. On the other hand, you would be very demoralized if you suddenly didn’t get paid.
These factors are called hygiene factors. Things that would not affect your motivaiton positively, but would lower it considerably if it disappeared.

For money to be a factor of motivation, it has to be variable depending on effort put in. If you can increase your paycheck by putting in more effort the coming few hours, you might get motivated to do it, but the further off the reward is from the effort put in, the less it will affect your motivation. Therefore it is usually pretty much usuless to throw away billions in bonus programmes on last years result. It might be a nice benefit, but it doesn’t really change your motivation or your productivity.
Same with the physical work environment. It sure is nice to sit in a nice office, but it will most likely only affect your motivation when you are freezing your butt off.

The problem with most talks around motivation is that you usually focus on solving various problems instead of creating an ideal work environment, because it is more concrete, it is easier to act, to do something. But to create a positive environment you have to let go off control, coach your employees. Change the leadership. Things like that can seem dangerous, because we don’t know what results it will give and measuring the results is harder.

The countryside

 

I have returned from a weekend in my family’s house on the countryside. A full weekend in the summer heat, birds chirping in the trees, breakfast outdoors and long walks in the forest down to the lake.

Stockholm is a very green city and you are always close to water, no matter where you live. And even though I live fairly close to the city, outside my balcony I hear birds chirping, the trees swaying, and no nosy neighbours looking in. I love this place.
But, for the first time ever in my life, my city heart is having doubts, wondering if it is really such a good idea to live in a city. For the first time, the unthinkable has been thought of.

Maybe I should move out on the country side instead?

Sure, it’s only an idea, but that idea has never had any attraction. I have always wanted to live in an apartment in a city. Always loved the variety, the life style, the energy. All the things you can do, concerts, restaurants, being close to the gym, the stores.
Now, suddenly, I’m starting to wonder if not it would be better for everyone to live on the country side instead. Close to nature. Live in line with birds singing instead of the subway.

We commute more and more, especially in big cities. No matter where you live, most people spend at least thirty minutes one way to get to work. We are like lemmings walking in line, stairing out in front of us when sitting on small trains moving one station at a time. I think this is mostly bad for us. It wears our patience down, creates stress that we might not be aware of.
In todays cities, not only do we move faster, we are also bombarded by an endless stream of information and stimulation. The enjoyment of all of these options so freely available is covered by the stress of choosing which one to experience.

Today, it is easier than ever to live and work wherever you like to, without the risk of isolation like you were once. Despite this, the thought feels a bit frightening. Maybe I would hate it. Die out of boredom, feel stuck far away from everyone else. But I wouldn’t know until I’ve tried it.

Any case, it’s not going to happen right now. I’m not even sure I’m very serious about this, so I have all the time I want to decide. But it does feel like it’s a thought that is gaining ground.

 

On Leadership

 

As I was clearing out my old blog I had before this one, I have saved some of the writings from there that I’m going to re-publish here. This one on leadership is the first one, written in September of 2009.

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Most leaders in an organisation has two roles, that of a Leader and that of a manager. At times these two roles conflict with each-other and sometimes they are both needed in a longer process.
The difference between the role of leader and manager is that the leader has a longer and more strategic role while the manager has a short-term role dealing with details and situations. You may call the managers role a transactional one, meaning that it deals with day to day situations and decision making. The managers goal is for the day to day work to function with satisfaction, trying to keep the team together and making decisions that needs to be made.
The leaders role however, is very different from this. It’s main purpose is not for the company to function smoothly and to be effective, but rather to develop over time. It functions as a kind of teacher, not telling people what to do, but to coach them in their development so as to empower every single employee to take responsibility for their own work and life and start to manage themselves. A successful leader will therefore eventually make him or herself unnecessary, because every individual will be guided from within, not needing any external authority or guide.
This is not only part of every leaders job. It is the job. And it is one of the most difficult jobs of all.

It’s difficulty does not lay in it’s day to day function but in it’s long term problem. The problem of creating a support system for the individual and then adapt it accordingly as the individual grows. As the other person develops you will less and less be a manager and more and more it is expected of you to be a leader. Management might never disappear completely, but it will shrink as the other person becomes self-sufficient.

The resemblance between leadership and other fields such as teaching, parenting, training or politics is apparent. Even though many are not aware of it, this dual role of leadership and management is equally true from them.
A child that is born is helpless in this world without the support of a parent. This obviously doesn’t need to be a biological parent.
It’s role in the beginning is that of the managers. Feeding the child, keeping it safe and showing it how things work. As the child grows, it is given harder and more complex challenges all suitable to the child’s development. As it grows however, the parent must also teach the child how to be independent of the parent, because the parent is not going to be around forever. Every human being and so also the child has an instinct to be independent of it’s surroundings which will eventually lead to the age where the child starts to challenge it’s parents control. This is most notably seen in it’s teens.
The problem with us humans however is that we have been conditioned into thinking of people and events in this world as static. We create an image of how things are and when this image is in place, it becomes hard to change it.
For the parent this is the tendency to look at the child as it was, instead of how it is now, thinking it is less capable to manage itself than it actually is. For the leader the problem is now to cede it’s management aspect granting the child or employee more and more room to move in.
If the parent is unable to see this when it happens the child or teen will feel held back and suffocated and it will increase it’s effort to break free and become independent.
I don’t think it is necessary to give any examples of situations like these of conflict between parents and it’s teen. We can see it all around us and we have most likely been in this situation ourselves at least once.

This kind of battle between control and freedom is easy to spot in all aspects of life, and it is by far the most problematic issue to deal with. Not because of the situations it creates but because of it’s subtle effect it has on our thinking and identity.

The role of parent is both natural and needed for the child to survive at all, but because of our conditioning to think about things, situations and our identity as fixed, we have a tendency to start seeing things in one way and then keep on seeing things that way. And when the situations change, we will often unconsciously rationalise our thinking and behaviour in order to avoid changing with the situation.

A perfect example of this is the Russian revolution in 1917.
The goal of the communist ideology is to create a society with as much personal freedom as possible. The theory behind this was that an enlightened elite of philosophers and politicians aware of the problems of class society would start a revolution and overthrow the bourgeois rulers. It would then in it’s place create a dictatorship of the people in order to change society and when in control through education and leadership empower the people to the degree where they have as much personal freedom and possibilities as they can, and then dissolve the dictatorship and give the power back to the now enlightened people, creating a communist society.

But as we all know, this never happened. The revolution succeeded and in the beginning it looked really good, giving the communists in other parts of the world incentive to start their own revolution, but as the years march on, things changed.
It is easy at this point to polish the saying that ”power corrupts” or that communism is dangerous, but doing so we might miss how important this phenomena is for all human life.
We, as humans, often think of ourselves as having certain traits. Often we also think of these personality traits as something that is given us from birth or acquired in our childhood and then stay that way for the rest of our lives.
It is therefore logical to think that when I have power, or when I am in a leadership position, I know already how I will behave because I am a such and such person, but what happens is that every situation is new to us and will always modify our way of being and thinking.
Our view of how things are and should be will therefore change, but in a such a subtle way that we might not be aware of it. We therefore have a tendency to answer to these new situations and thinking that we have always thought like this, forgetting that when we started out we had different opinions and views about things.
Because of this basic yet massive failure, most people today still have no clue what communism was meant to be

Returning to the parent, it will look at the child as less capable and not being responsible enough to handle it’s new freedom without realising that the child can not show how responsible it is without the parent ceding some of it’s control, allowing the child to learn and make it’s own mistakes. Instead of being supportive in the child’s development, he or she becomes a hindrance, slowly killing the child’s natural striving for more and more freedom.
Instead of being a positive and supportive leader creating an individual with high self esteem capable of managing him or herself, the child becomes insecure, doubting it’s own abilities and out of this comes a mutual dependence that will always create conflict.
As time passes both parts in the relationship of leader-led, employer-employee, parent-child, teacher-student will get used to this way of interacting forgetting that things could be different.
The employee will start to rely on external authority, it’s manager, for it’s answers and how to deal with all situations instead of thinking creatively for him or herself. He or she will run to the manager with all kind of simple questions because of fear of doing something wrong and the manager will start to feel about their employees that they are lazy and untrustworthy that won’t lift a finger unless motivated by the stick or a carrot. The manager will only give out simple and monotonous tasks to it’s employee, because it has no trust that the person will handle new challenges in a responsible way.
The student will learn how to give the correct answer to the teachers question instead of thinking creatively and find more than one answer and they will rely on text books as absolute authority without criticism. In religion people will rely on holy scripture written in an old and different culture with the consequence that they will apply outdated logic to a completely different world, using an image of god as comfort when afraid instead of reading between the lines and getting the essence of it’s wisdom.

The hardest task for any person is to be aware of these situations realising when they are in a position of power and actively work to cede this power when necessary, to step out of the way when someone else takes initiative. To ”grow smaller”. It is very easy to say to yourself that it gets done faster if I do it myself.
It also means to be on the lookout for when you yourself avoid to take responsibility for your actions or thoughts, giving away your initiative to someone else because it is more comfortable and easy. Because if you are unaware of this, you will take these roles of being with you into every new relationship repeating the same problems and conflicts over and over again.
Think of how the woman in a relationship often takes the role of the mother, and the man that of the irresponsible boy, or how the woman acts stupid or weak and men come running to help out. It is all an act to avoid taking responsibility. And we have all done it.

If you break a leg, crutches might be needed to get around, but when your leg has healed it is time to start walking again.
And as the ending to this long post, I publish below the brilliant poem by Kahlil Gibran:

On Children

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday