Let’s face it — motivation can be a fickle friend. One day, you’re motivated to try something new, make a bold move, make changes. The next day, you’re just happy to get out of the bed in the morning.
We’ve all been there — great intentions to exercise, study, work hard, save money, be patient. And then life hits, and you’re just trying to get by.
Thus, while you might feel excited by the following habits on one day, perhaps you might also feel annoyed that someone (like me) is telling you to:
- Do 2 pushups every day
- Practice mental math
- Express appreciation to others daily
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Take a cold shower in the morning
- Practice memorizing numbers
- Empathize with others every day
- Think about your family’s history every day
What’s a person to do? How do you know what habits to pick up, which ones to drop, and which ones to let sail on by?
Why before What
He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how
— Victor Frankl
Before deciding what you want to do to improve your life, you need to first need to know why.
Why are you doing what you’re doing?
What matters most to you?
What life changes are most inspiring?
Where do you want to be in 1 year, in 5 years, in 10 years? Why?
What are the values that drive you to change?
Simon Sinek’s bestselling book Start with Why (also viewable as a TED talk) implores readers to first start with a purpose; start with an undeniable reason to do what you’re doing.
Benjamin Hardy instructs readers to ask why multiple times to get to the deepest levels of purpose and meaning.
Victor Frankl talks deeply about having a why in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. While in a Nazi concentration camp, he reflects on the words of Nietzche “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”
What drives you to do what you do?
For example, when considering our full-time employment, we can ask the question of why we do what we do. We can ask:
Why do I keep working at my current job?
Why don’t I do something simpler and live a simple life?
Why don’t I take on a greater challenge at work and expand my influence?
Why do I want to live at my current lifestyle level?
Why do I feel motivated to work?
Why do I feel like not working some days?
Why do I really want money? What purpose does it serve for me?
You can take questions like these, answer them, and then keep digging with additional why questions to get at the root of what matters most.
These questions don’t have to be about work. They can be about all aspects of life. Family. Hobbies. Vacations. Daily habits.
As you get to the why of your daily life, you’ll be ready to think about the changes that will best help you get where you want to go.
Go from Why to What
After you ponder the whys for what you want in life, you can start asking what questions.
What will help me reach my highest purpose?
What do I want to be doing in 10 years?
What changes will help me feel healthy and well in mind, body, heart, and spirit?
What’s my biggest roadblock to happiness? What can I change to overcome that roadblock?
One of the best what questions you can ask is:
What one thing, if I changed now would move me forward to my most important goals?
While you can spend a significant amount of time thinking about these questions, I’ve found that often the best answers are right at the surface. Usually we know deep down inside us what things we need to change to make the biggest difference in our lives.
Go from What to How
After determining what you want to change you can then figure out how to make that change happen. This is where you drill down to find the habits and behaviors that will make your what and why possible.
I like the Tiny Habits approach taught by BJ Fogg. In his book Tiny Habits, Fogg talks about how to find “golden behaviors.” These are the behaviors that you think will make the biggest impact.
To find the golden behaviors, you first list everything that you think will help you make the change. If you want to lose weight, for instance, your list might include: walking 5 miles every day, eating more vegetables, skipping snacks, joining a gym, joining a weight loss club, lifting weights, finding an accountability partner, cleaning out the fridge and pantry of unhealthy foods, etc.
I like to make this kind of list using notecards — one item per notecard. It makes it easy to move the items around, as you’ll see below. But you can also do this on a piece of paper or electronic document quite easily as well
After you have a good list of 10–20 items, you’ll start arranging items in a grid. From left to right you’ll arrange the items from least to most effective. If you’ve already tried walking 3 miles every day, and it’s not making a dent in your weight, you might decide that walking 5 miles will probably not be a highly effective activity for your goal of weight loss.
After you’ve listed items from left to right, you then assess how practical each activity is. Practicality can be determined by asking the question, “How likely is it that I would follow through on this activity?”
Joining a weight loss club might sound like a very effective idea, but if your schedule is already packed, you might determine that it’s not very practical.
Take each activity, and then organize them up and down on your chart with the least practical ideas being at the bottom, and the most practical ideas being at the top.
Once you’re done, you’ll have a chart like above. The behaviors in the upper right quadrant — practical and effective — are the golden behaviors.
In our weight loss example, you would then execute any one-time actions for these behaviors. This could include scheduling a pantry clean out, signing up for a marathon, and texting a workout buddy.
For continuous activities, e.g. daily marathon training, you’d want to set up a daily habit. I won’t go into the details of setting up a habit here. If you’d like to learn more, check out You Should Do 2 Pushups Every Day for 2 Weeks.
In short, you establish a new habit by finding something you want to do, you make it easy to do, and then you set yourself up to succeed and feel good when you do it.
The Behavior Buffet
After you establish your whys, determine your whats, and figure out your hows with golden behaviors and habits, you’re set for life, right? Haven’t you gotten all the daily behaviors you need to succeed? Not quite.
Remember the step where you assessed whether a behavior was both practical and effective? More than likely, you under- or over-estimated the effectiveness or practicality of a certain behavior. As a result, you’ll find that you need to reassess a certain behavior or group of behaviors.
For me, this process of assessing, working on a habit and behavior, and then reassessing is a constant process. I also find that as I read, learn, and experiment, I learn about new behaviors to try.
Imagine living life only eating the same foods your mom made for you growing up. No doubt, they will always be some of your favorites. However, by reaching out and trying new things, you find there are new exciting foods out in the world you hadn’t considered.
This, my friends, is the spirit of the 2-minute, 2-week habit. Not every challenge or habit is something that will work with your life. But if you are in the process of growing, stretching, and developing, you should be looking for new behaviors to help you in this process.
Why. What. How.
Try. Learn. Grow. Adapt.
Call to action: keep the habits coming!
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