Why small habit changes can lead to big wellbeing results

Jul 19, 2023 | Development, Home Featured, Opinion

Small habit changes can have a big impact on our wellbeing, explain Joel Thomas and Nadir Rizvi at IBM.

At the recent ISE Student Development Conference, many of us admitted to falling prey to what Forbes deemed to be bad habits, such as starting the day on our phones, ending the day checking emails, and maintaining to-do lists that never complete.

According to Duke University, 40% of our daily behaviour consists of habits. Yet as described by Brian Fogg, author of Tiny Habits, there remains a ‘painful’ gap between what people want and what they actually do.

However, if we became just 1% better at something every day, we would be 37 times better within a year (caveat: the reverse is also true!).

Regular and iterative improvements can compound to create big results.

 

What stops us from forming good habits?

Fogg describes failure to form new positive habits not as a personal flaw, but a design flaw in the way we approach habit-building.

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, states that: “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” Knowing what you want to achieve is necessary, but having a system in place to achieve the goal is critical.

Forming habits is hard when we depend on the acquisition of knowledge to change our attitude and behaviour, when we discount feasibility of change based on perceptions of insufficient time, or when we fail to acknowledge the benefits of incremental progress and focus instead on instant gratification.

Interestingly, 91% of ISE Student Development Conference attendees stated they had unsuccessfully tried to form a habit that they still desired.

 

How can I form good habits?

Aspirations can be broken down into tiny behaviours, which Fogg defines as things that can be done in less than 30 seconds.

By identifying a change or behaviour you desire, breaking this down into a small action and finding where this naturally fits in your life, we can nurture the growth of habits.

A key component is defining your ‘anchor’ moment – this is the event that reminds you to perform your tiny behaviour. Once performed, Fogg suggests that creating positive emotion through celebration reinforces the desire to continue performing that habit.

It’s also vital that the desired habit is performed frequently. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, describes the ‘motivation muscle’ as needing to be built over time.

Josh Clark, inventor of Couch to 5km, provides similar encouragement: “[let] yourself go more slowly than you think you should so that you can do more than you believed you could”.

Inevitably, we will all face failure, but as Fogg states, “There is no real failure in tiny habits. There are little stumbles, but if you get up again, that’s not failure – that’s a habit in the making.”

And once you’ve mastered your positive habit? Let’s get habit stacking! Why not use the new habit as your ‘anchor’ for performing a new positive habit?

 

Habits are personal

Too often we aim too high, too soon, overlooking the fact that small habit changes can lead to big results.

And remember that how you form a habit is personal to you – if something works for you and seems strange to others, be brave and carry on.

For example, whilst some may be embarrassed to do this, when James Clear is in losing weight mode but has been invited to dinner at a restaurant, he doesn’t despair. He places his order, the food arrives, and he immediately asks the waiter to pack half of it away so that he can take it home to be eaten at a later time!

So, when you’re tempted to start or end your day by checking emails, are updating your to-do list that never completes, or can identify a ‘painful’ gap between what you want and what you do, consider this; what tiny habit can you form next?

 

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