The fragility of systems and getting back on the horse

I remember learning early in my career that it takes 21 days to form a new habit (although that myth may have been busted). I think we can all agree that it takes much less time to break one.

Over the period of the Rugby World Cup my sister and her family visited us. Absolutely amazing experience for us all and I had a whale of a time! With an extra 5 people in the house, and a packed schedule of sightseeing, eating Japanese food and drinking beer and sake, it did not take much to get me out of my morning ritual.

I usually wake up around 5:30-6am  and then either go running with my running club or do yoga at home. Wake up the kids at 7 and they are out of the house for 8:10. In the evening, depending on the day, I pick up the youngest around 6pm, dinner at home, bath and bed by 9pm. We have days clearly defined for screen ok and no screen days.

Well, a staycation with kids at school, threw all of that out of the window.

And I really felt the difference.

Whilst we were certainly getting our daily steps in, and I did have an amazing time the fragility of my system became clear. So this got me to thinking about some of the ways that work for me and my coaching clients to get things back on the habit horse. There is no size fits all so use this list as inspiration!

And if you want to look at habits more deeply in your team, contact me to set up a Four Tendencies Workshop. Great for individuals and people managers alike.

Getting back on the Habit Horse

  1. Make it the default – eat the frog and do it first. It is not about a choice but like tooth brushing something that you do without fail. 
  2. Prepare the night before – this is about creating ease. For example, last night, I laid out my running clothes, plus my clothes to wear for the day. I was intentional in my choices after a week in casual sightseeing wear to want to be “coordinated” and colorful.
  3. Don’t break the chain – similar to the default above but there is a great feeling of seeing the days add up on the calendar. Get visual about it and you might be able to see the impact. And there is something great about saying, “Wow, I did X everyday for Y days”. Take a look at Outrun Cancer for an inspiring take on this.
  4. Make it easy – going to the gym requires too many steps for me! Registering initially and then getting out the door, to the gym, possibly joining a class. So I workout at home, and just choose the most recent session. I love doing plans like Yoga with Adrienne: 30 days of Yoga (coming up live in January every year), or one of the Nike training courses where you get told “do this today”.
  5. Make the activity a reward in itself – very much of the idea of Be Kind to Your Future Self. How luxurious to spend time doing this task! How wonderful will I feel when I am finished! How clear my mind will be!
  6. Multipliers  – I came upon this in a Lean In Circle meeting which focuses on how you can combine multiple activities into one. This is not the same as multitasking but about thinking about bigger goals or values that you have and how you can combine your activities to support those goals. For example, my goal was to find ways to refresh my energy during the workday, stay fit and connect with my friend (also a colleague) so we arranged a weekly lunchtime run on a Friday. We could talk as we ran, felt energized from the endorphins after even a short 20 minute run. Think about a couple of goals and values that are important to you and work out ways that you can combine 2 or more together in an activity. It is easier than you think.
  7. What is the MVP? Minimum Viable Product is a lean startup term that helps us to consider what the minimum feature set required to get feedback from customers is. Having an MVP for your habit might be doing 3 minutes of mindfulness instead of 20, limiting coffee intake to the morning instead of quitting completely, committing to calling 5 customers instead of 10. Whilst your real goal and regular activity level might be more lofty, you will gain from the quick win and instant gratification of doing something. This can be a powerful motivator to exceed your goal and do more. If not, at least you started and an MVP is always about iteration. Just Ship It!
  8. Count to 5 – this is Mel Robbins 5 second rule It has worked very well for me about getting out of bed in the cold winter mornings. I even changed my alarm clock to 5:55 (Go, Go, Go! in Japanese) to reinforce the message.

Be kind to yourself

It’s easy to beat yourself up when you let a habit slip and I know that I did. But shame is not a helpful energy or emotion to drive growth. Instead, analyze the why and think about how you can most easily put one of the habits back into place today.

Even if it not a “full” display of your habits, even if it is not a perfect version, your first action is to ship it. To climb back on the horse. Get started!

But maybe I don’t want to anymore

Everything happens for a reason right? A slipped habit might be a good time to check whether this habit is still necessary. They might not even be useful or important to you anymore.

So when you find yourself feeling at sea and that your rituals and habits are no longer anchoring you it is good to ask yourself the following coaching questions.

  • What makes this ritual or habit important to me? What goal is it supporting?
  • Is that still important to me? 
  • What would happen if I stop? How does that feel?
  • If you feel lighter, released, then it might be time to say goodbye or to reframe this habit!
  • Still want to continue? What can I do to reintroduce this habit? What will make it easy to do? What is the MVP I can start with today?
  • When will I check in with myself to track my progress on reintroducing this habit?

Want to learn more about how you and your team can create Habits? I deliver a 90 minute to 4 hour workshop on Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies Framework. Fascinating with great takeaways for individual and people managers about motivation, communication and how to get stuff done!

What do you think?

How do you get yourself back on track? As always, would love to see your comments and ideas below!