Building a Habit

Updated: Feb 25, 2020

"You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great" Zig Ziglar

I went to the gym this morning. “Why?!” I hear you cry! “It’s the hottest day ever, are you mad?!”

Maybe. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been building a habit of doing two decent exercise sessions a week. Initially, I struggled to do it consistently because of family commitments or work, or a bad night’s sleep or simply because it can be hard – there was always something seemingly more important to do or a reason not to go.

When building a habit, the hardest part is often showing up in the first place. This can be made easier by finding a consistent time and environment where you can focus on the task and stick to doing it regularly, or a trigger or some external encouragement to help you. To begin with, I made a habit of always going to the gym on a Tuesday morning. I need to be up to put the bins out so I created a routine of heading to the gym after doing the bins.

Then there was the challenge of the second session. I play hockey every now and then so that covers a few Saturdays during the season, but since the season ended I have needed to consistently add a second gym session into my week. There still always seems to be something else I could be doing, but I push myself to go one morning towards the end of the week to make sure I achieve my aim. And the more I’ve done it, the more it has become something that I do. It doesn’t seem as big a task to go anymore, it is accepted by others, I have improved my fitness and I feel better for it.

So when my son woke up at 5am, and when the reports said it could be the hottest day ever recorded, and when it was Thursday rather than my usual Friday because I’ve had to shuffle things around this week, it would have been easy to have simply said “No, not today”. But instead, I persevered and stuck to my habit. I decided I’d do 45 minutes instead of an hour but when I was there, focused on the task and surrounded by inspirational images of Dina Asher-Smith, Jack Nowell and Maddie Hinch, I did the hour anyway. I’d showed up – I’d done the hardest part – so why not maximise the benefit while I was there?

It’s the same with many tasks. Whether it’s a daily huddle, a weekly report, writing a book or phoning customers; there’s always a reason not to do it. We put them off because there’s always something else or because the task seems daunting or we’re not entirely confident doing it. This feeling typically builds the more we put it off. Showing up is the hardest part. Once we’re there, focused on getting stuck into our task without distractions, then simply making a start often makes us feel so much more positive and energised about it. And the more positive we feel, the more we want to do it and the better we’ll become.

A habit needs to be achievable at the beginning and sustainable in the long run, otherwise people will generally give up and move on to something else. Start small, make it achievable and build the habit of showing up, then increase it bit by bit over time. Start a weekly huddle before you make it daily; progress to writing two chapters instead of one; add an extra customer to your call list each day. If it’s something that can be done with the support of others, use them to energise you to show up and achieve your goal.

Create the habit, ideally at the same time and place each day or week, and make sure you show up. You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.

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