We start this journey in ancient Greece with the most famous wrestler of the time - Milo of Croton. He was the earliest Olympic hero having won 6 wrestling championships, however he was most well known for his extraordinary feats of strength, most notably for being able to lift a fully grown bull onto his shoulders. It is said that Milo was able to achieve this feat as he had the bull as a calf and, every day, would lift it onto his shoulders. As the bull grew and developed Milo's strength grew with it until he was capable of his headline act.
This story gives an important insight into success that is so often overlooked. As an outsider all we see is the finished product or skill. We miss the days of effort that go into it. This is termed the iceberg effect. When we then try and emulate others achievements, whether that be quitting smoking, learning a language or getting in shape, we are disconnected from the process, we assume it was easy for the others as we couldn't see their struggle so, as soon as it gets hard, we quit. That is why so many New Year resolutions are in tatters come February.
To change this fate we need to learn an important lesson from Milo - that is all achievements are composed of small daily behaviours. It is the little things, done consistently, that create the big things.
So, we know that we need to do things regularly but this in and of itself is a difficult feat in our busy lives. How do we make these daily behaviours happen? The answer is in our habits and, for this, we need to leave ancient Greece and visit a man at Stanford University named B.J. Fogg.
The Fogg method gives a great framework for changing any habit and involves 4 simple stages:
1. What is the behaviour you want?
This may sound obvious but actually takes some thought. If you want to lose weight as a goal then you need to consider how that breaks down into behavioural components. For the sake of this post we shall use the simple example of wanting to get fitter by running a 5k. That is the goal, the behavioural component to achieve that goal would be to go out for a run every day.
2. Make it easy
When we set our big goals it is easy to get overexcited and commit ourselves to things that are difficult and time consuming, giving us little chance of achieving them. To be successful we need to go to the opposite end of the spectrum and work out what the easiest possible starting point is for your behaviour. Using our running example it would be to go for a 5 minute walk. That is all you need to do to win the day.
3. Trigger the behaviour
The final stage is to fit the behaviour into your day. As Human beings we are pattern recognition machines and regularly automate our daily actions to save mental energy. The result of this is that we have to find a hook to hang our new behaviour from otherwise it will quickly be overlooked and forgotten. Think through your day and calculate the best opportunity for including your little daily win. In our example it could be that whilst you are having your morning coffee you tie up your trainers and go for your walk.
4. Scale the behaviour
As your new daily habit starts to form thanks to the previous stages you now need to start scaling. Some of this will happen automatically as the idea of making it easy is that on days where you are feeling motivated you will likely do more than initially agreed anyway. From the point where you are hitting your minimum daily standard regularly you then need to slowly raise the bar. Our 5 minute walk could turn into 15mins or a 5min run. Again the ease point needs to be remembered, you can't go straight to the other end of the spectrum, make it easy, keep it gradual.
Using the steps above and remembering our ancient wrestler you will now be on the way to making some impactful change in your life. However, you may be thinking that this is all great but you are actually wanting to remove a behaviour rather than starting a new one such as quitting smoking. Thankfully the model still holds true. The reality is that you will struggle to delete an old behaviour, instead you need to overwrite a new behaviour on top of it. To do this you need to identify the trigger for your undesirable behaviour, for our smoking example this may be feeling stressed. Now, using this knowledge you need to identify a new behaviour that you can swap in that will appease the original trigger. For stress and smoking this could be using a breathing exercise. You then just repeat the steps above.
Congratulations, you now have the blueprint for making huge changes in your life and ensuring those resolutions stick. If you'd like to learn more about the science that underpins this approach then I highly recommend the book 'The Power of Habit' by Charles Duhigg.
In the final post of this mini series we will look at some other methods that can be helpful for making our new habits stick.