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Making a change in your life can seem a daunting task. The more important something is, the more worried we get about doing it “right,” and ironically, the more likely we become to put it off.
But making those healthier, happier changes is what the Whole Life Challenge is here to help you with, and it’s literally what we do. The WLC is about creating a set of habits that guide you to becoming better and better. It’s about progress, rather than perfection.
That said, it can still seem overwhelming to tackle so many areas of your life at once. Our 7 Daily Habits — nutrition, exercise, mobility, sleep, hydration, reflection, and lifestyle practices — can seem like a lot. Even when you know it’s okay not to be perfect, you can still feel like there’s no way you can change so many things at once.
I hear you. I know what you’re feeling, and I’ve been there.
That’s why I’m going to share with you the best success secret to create change in your life: make the smallest change you can get away with and stop right there.
How to Successfully Create Change
Pick one of the areas in your life that seems hard to change. Sleep is huge for many of us, so let’s say you’re going to make a positive change in your sleep habit.
What’s the tiniest change you can make that will make your sleep better?
Turn down your thermostat at night? Turn off all electronics one hour before bedtime? Maybe just fifteen minutes before bedtime? How about you have an evening cup of herbal tea? Take a hot bath?
These are just examples. The idea is that the change you decide on should be small and easy. And I’m serious about “small.” If it’s a change, it’s a change. No one is judging here, so you shouldn’t be judging yourself, either.
Okay, let’s go with turning down the thermostat because that’s the easiest one on the list. It’s even easier if you have a programmable thermostat. Every night, turn down the temperature to 68 degrees. Your bedroom will be nice and chilly. You will snuggle into your warm bed and won’t do your usual middle-of-the-night-wake-up routine, all sweaty and uncomfortable. Win!
Now, here’s where things really get cool. Because you’re getting better quality sleep, you will feel better. Because you feel better you will be more likely to go to the gym. And if you get better sleep and go to the gym, you won’t feel that midday energy crash that you always cured with a candy bar or a soft drink — or both.
See how that works? Just by turning your thermostat down, you made improvement in not just one, but three of the 7 Daily Habits.
How to Pick the Right Habit to Start With
The key is to pick the right habit area to focus on and then home in on the right change to make.
Here’s how I recommend picking which habit to focus on:
- Ask yourself, “Which habit seems the most impossible?”
- Ask yourself, “Which one seems the easiest?” As in “I’m pretty much doing this right now.”
- Take those two habits off the table.
- Keep doing this until you only have one habit category left. There are 7 Daily Habits, so the math should work. The one remaining habit will be your target. It should an area of your life that feels moderately challenging, but doable.
Now, ask yourself, “What’s preventing me from already doing this habit?”
Use the Technique of “Shaping the Path”
In their amazing book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath propose that we each have two aspects that vie for control when we try to make change. They describe these two aspects as an elephant and the person riding the elephant. The elephant is the emotional, impulsive part of us. The rider is the logical, thinking part of us.
Change is most successful, they write, when the rider and elephant are working toward the same goal. However, that rarely happens. It takes awareness and effort to bring them together.
The rider tries to control the elephant, but the elephant is big and not prone to listen to reason. The rider knows you should get to bed early so you can get eight hours of sleep. The elephant is all caught up in binge-watching House of Cards. Guess who wins?
In the book, the Heath brothers use a technique called “shaping the path.” To do this, you must understand the situations that trigger the behavior you want to change. Look around your environment and, when you find a trigger, get rid of it.
So, putting that in the context of the above example, what are some ways to make sure that a Netflix binge doesn’t interfere with your sleep goal? The rider says: “Easy. Just watch one episode.” But the elephant is trumpeting, “I really need to find out if Frank Underwood finally gets what’s coming to him!”
Here are some examples of shaping the path:
- Put the remote in another room so it takes an effort to turn the television on in the first place.
- Set a time for however long you plan on watching so you have an external reminder to stop.
- Better yet, put a timer on the television so it automatically powers down after that set time.
Relying on willpower and logic is a losing game, no matter how hard you try and no matter how many times you try. Finding a small, easy change that has a big result — that’s the key to success. And these little changes pile up fast into big changes that are sustainable.
Use the 7 Daily Habits to Create Change
The 7 Daily Habits of the Whole Life Challenge are significant because they will have a big impact on your health and happiness. They are also significant because each will have an impact on one or some of the others.
It’s not even that we here at the WLC “picked” the 7 Daily Habits, but rather that we discovered their power through our own personal endeavors to become healthier and through helping our players improve their lives.
Find that small change in one habit area and watch how that change spreads to and influences all the rest. Soon enough, you’ll have a handle on all of the 7 Daily Habits and you’ll be winning at making change — one small, but powerful and lasting step at a time.