A gentler way to begin habits: you’ll increase your effectiveness and resilience
If you have new responsibilities at work, you can easily get overwhelmed, fuzzy about how to do something or forget a little detail in trying to get everything right. Developing habits can be a very useful way to get all the right things done not only consistently, but also efficiently.
Developing a habit means you don’t have to use as much mental power throughout the day. Having that routine means you’re less likely to forget something because it’s ingrained in you. You’re less likely to waste time and energy thinking “I should do this, but I don’t feel like it, but I should, but it’s hard, maybe I’ll check my emails first” continued by more procrastination. It also means that when challenges arise, you can direct that extra mental space to solving the problem and have a sense of support, structure and safety (all of which are fantastic to performing at a high level).
However, habits aren’t always that easy. One of the most popular ways to begin a habit and reap the benefits, is to implement tiny changes, one at a time. That way each additional habit is easier to adopt and thus more likely to last.
For example: let’s say you want to create a better team culture. That can include a lot of things, so it can be good to start with one tiny action: you might tell each person one thing they’re doing well every day. Or start even smaller, and try giving one person a compliment during the week and then build from there. In and of itself, it’s unlikely this little action will be a game changer. But as you keep doing it and add new tiny steps once the previous one has become a habit, you will begin to cultivate a better team culture.
The thing is, this doesn’t always work. Sometimes even one small step feels like a giant leap. And even if it is a small step, it still requires some effort on your part - additional effort to the flat out busy life you probably lead. When we’re already exhausted, having to muster up the commitment, discipline, passion or drive to follow through can be the difference between succeeding and never trying at all.
Sometimes we just don’t follow through or something gets in the way, and we don’t know why. You might know you need to go to bed earlier to be well rested for the next day, but you just never seem to take the initiative and do it. I don’t believe that blaming yourself for not trying hard enough is the best course of action here. It’s not necessarily wrong, but if you’ve tried that approach and it hasn’t worked, maybe it’s time to use another tact. I believe it’s immensely powerful and much more effective and efficient long term, to get to the underlying causes.
I’ve come to believe that by starting to cultivate a habit or change from within, we have a better chance of actually starting it and following through in the long term. Why? Because life is going to throw something unexpected your way. If you first cultivate the habit internally, not only is it much easier to start, there’s also a better chance you will be resilient to the unexpected. You will have built momentum, familiarity and strength with your habit or change without encountering the obstacles of the external world. You will have set up the internal “environment” to support the habit. Much like if you want a seed to grow, you don’t plant it in an arid environment and then work the soil. In most cases it’s much more intelligent to improve the soil, then plant the seed.
The majority of seeds from a tree never become trees. This is not because the seeds didn’t try hard enough or weren’t motivated enough. It’s because there simply wasn’t the right environment for them to start to grow.
Furthermore, the growth of a seed begins from within. The sprout comes from within the seed, it doesn’t just appear on the outside.
When you begin by cultivating the environment inside of you for the habit to grow, there’s less of a chance that your habit will get trampled on before it’s even seen the light of day. Because at this stage, you’re not dealing with the reality of the external world just yet. You’re not dealing with the difficulty of starting, setbacks, criticism, judgements, uncertainties etc because it’s all internal.
You’re giving the seed a chance to grow. And if you think about a seed, it starts by growing roots, not a stem. Once the roots are strong enough to hold a stem, then the stem comes up above the surface. Similarly, by letting your habit take root inside you first, it will be better equipped to handle the external forces that will inevitably come into play.
The most basic way to begin this process for yourself is to start to think about the habit you would like to begin. As you think about it more you can begin to imagine yourself doing it. As you imagine yourself taking action more, see if you can feel what that would be like. This is beginning to create new neural pathways and a state in your body that is conducive to beginning the habit.
This can be done when you’re in traffic, when you’re walking the dog, when you’re waiting in line to get your coffee or movie tickets, during a mundane task you have to do like photocopying. Or you can dedicate a little bit of time every morning or evening to this.
You can even do this once you’re already applying the habit. Research shows that this kind of mental rehearsal can be as effective (and sometimes more effective) than practicing in the real world.
One example of this found that basketball players who mentally rehearsed free throws got better results than those who practiced with a real basketball. One of the keys was that they visualised getting the shot every single time. They weren’t impeded by the physical reality. Similarly, you could envision executing on the habit perfectly every time and enjoying the whole process.
But we can take this a step further…
Using a tool known as “Tapping”, we can remove obstacles that are in the way, and create change at a much faster pace. If you’ve never heard of “Tapping” before, you can learn the basics below. If you’re already familiar with it, jump to the next section in this blog where you’ll learn ways to apply it for starting a habit.
“Tapping” (EFT) is a scientifically proven, mind-body connection method. It allows you to rapidly reduce the emotional intensity of blocks and situations in your life. Science shows that when you reduce that intensity (that you are often unaware of at first), you are more intelligent, resourceful and resilient amongst many other things. You’re better able to see problems from new perspectives and take more efficient action.
While knowing what to do is powerful, we can often have resistance to doing the things we know. With Tapping you can reduce and sometimes completely eliminate that resistance. This isn’t just a mental hack, this is something that has profound effects at the level of your nervous system, your biology, and your subconscious mind.
As the name suggests, “Tapping” involves lightly tapping on acupressure points on your body while focusing on a specific problem. This physical action of tapping sends a calming signal to your brain and body. The result is that the problem that once caused you distress or the obstacle that once seemed insurmountable, now has little or no power over you. In other words, you’re removing what’s in the way rather than using more force.
Remember to take responsibility for your own wellbeing.
Tapping: how to do the basics
1) Identify a specific negative experience (past, present or future) to work on.
2) See if you can feel any emotion or physical sensation when you focus on this. (eg: feeling stressed, angry, tightness in your chest, pit in your stomach etc). Identify the level of intensity for you right now on a 0-10 scale (0 being no intensity, 10 being maximum intensity).
3) Tap the side of hand point continuously while saying the following 3 times:
“Even though_____________(insert problem), I deeply and completely accept myself”.
eg: “Even though I’m stressed by this project, I deeply and completely accept myself”.
(Note: If the last part of this statement feels off, you can try using “I accept I’m feeling this” or “I’m OK right now”).
4) Gently tap the 8 points about 7 times each with your fingertips while repeating a brief phrase at each point, that reminds you of the problem. eg: “feeling stressed”, “this project”.
5) Test to see if there has been any change on the 0-10 scale of intensity or a change in emotion/physical sensation.
6) Repeat until intensity is 0, adjusting statements to reflect any changes you experience.
keep in mind that these are just the basics of one method. You may either need more knowledge or the guidance of a trained practitioner to get the results you want. Check out these blog posts where I cover the most crucial information when it comes to getting results with “Tapping”:
1: When you don’t even know where to begin
Let's say you want to take the example above and implement habits to foster a better team culture, but…you have no idea what kind of habit you could possibly implement. Using Tapping, you can begin by addressing this obstacle. In removing the possible feeling of stress and confusion, you’ll likely find ideas start coming more easily. Here are some prompts to get you started. Keep in mind that you get the best results when you use your own words and clearly state your own problem:
Even though I don’t know what kind of habit I could use for _____________(insert whatever it is you want to start e.g. “for cultivating a better team culture”), I deeply and completely accept myself.
Even though just thinking about it feels_____________(insert how you feel when you think about it. eg: “feels confusing and overwhelming”), I deeply and completely accept myself.
Even though I want to start_____________(insert what you want to start) but how? What does that even look like? Right now I don’t know, and I still deeply and completely accept myself.
Keep tapping through the points making sure to focus on what holds the stress for you and using words that focus on that.
2: When you know what to do but if feels hard/big/scary/overwhelming etc
Rather than trying to power through the fear/overwhelm etc, try tapping on it to see if it will resolve. That way you’ve overcome the obstacle internally. Best of all, if you truly get to the root of why you felt overwhelmed/scared etc, it’s likely you won’t have that same reason affect you in the future. Whereas it may show up as another problem later down the line if you only tried the willpower method.
Here are some examples:
Even though just thinking about starting this feels_____________(insert how it feels), I deeply and completely accept myself.
Even though Felix may criticise me and say_____________(voice a potential criticism), I deeply and completely accept myself.
Even though I’m afraid that _____________(voice what you’re afraid might happen) might happen, I deeply and completely accept myself.
Even though there’s a part of me that wants to do this, but there’s also this other part of me that_____________(voice what that other part of you is saying or feeling eg: “this other part of me wants to stay safe” or “this other part of me is saying ‘you’ll never do it, it’s not you’”), I deeply and completely accept myself.
Even though the main thing that’s stopping me from moving forward is_____________, I deeply and completely accept myself.
Even though the thought of having to keep up that habit feels like_____________(voice what it feels like when you think about having to maintain the habit. eg: “it feels like a heavy burden”), I deeply and completely accept myself.
Again, use your own words and be specific to your own situation. These examples are just to give you some angles to think about.
Allow yourself to fully acknowledge the worst case scenarios as well as the best case scenarios. I’ve found that eventually your mind tends to go there, so may as well release any stress around either situation now.
3: creating the internal environment
You can take the same steps of thinking about implementing a habit, feeling what it would feel like, seeing what you would see, imagining the sounds and tastes but…tap on the acupressure points at the same time. This will help relieve any stress around the habit, creating improved brain wave states, and in most cases change your emotional patterns much faster than with thought alone. You can close your eyes during the process and you may find that one acupressure point is most effective - if so, focus on that point a bit more.
The great thing about this is that it’s also engaging your creativity by visualising and imagining yourself implementing this habit. This little bonus of engaging your creativity can have a ripple effect into other areas.
If any form or resistance, negative thoughts or bad feeling comes up, focus on it and hold space for it while you tap, (rather than trying to push it away or feel positive). It could be a voice in your head that says things like “you’ll never do it” or “that will go badly” or “I'll be judged and they’ll say_____________” etc. It could be a feeling of butterflies in your stomach, a heaviness in your head. It could be an emotion such as fear, trepidation etc. Whatever it is, acknowledge it.
What comes up may sound rational or irrational. For example, feeling worried when you think about communicating with your team differently may seem rational, tap on it any. Feeling like you want to run in the other direction when you think about having to give a presentation may seem irrational, tap on it anyway. You will likely find the problem giving way or at least reducing in intensity.
You’re imagining or rehearsing what it would be like, without having to deal with any potential judgements or setbacks just yet. You’re reducing the intensity of the things that could get in the way or go wrong. You’re becoming familiar with the idea of doing this thing so that when you do go out and start in the outer world, you’ve already got momentum, you already feel a sense of familiarity and it feels more natural.
This means you are much more likely to follow through in the face of challenges and see the results in your life. It will be more rooted in who you are rather than something that is easy to stop because it feels unfamiliar.
Much of this is drawn from the teachings of Dr Joe Dispenza and Louise Hay