Habits Are the Key to Change

Continuing the theme of the new year, I’m hoping to improve my public speaking in 2016. So, I signed up for the Vancouver Transforming Speaker Meetup, where I was asked to give a 4-minute speech on “action.”

The result? A quick how-to talk on using habits to achieve your goals for 2016.

I hope you find this helpful. Let me know if you do!


Happy new year!

I trust you have some great goals for 2016?

But what tactics are you going to use to achieve those goals? What actions will you take to accomplish them?

When I was younger, I thought that I could conquer any obstacle using willpower alone. “grit and bootstraps” were all I needed.

But when trying to get fit, I’d doggedly go to the gym for months, then gradually run out of steam. And so, for many years I struggled and struggled to lose my belly.

In frustration, I hired a fitness guru as my personal trainer. Surely he could teach me the secret that I was missing! But there wasn’t any secret! In fitness, as in anything in life, there are no shortcuts. Consistency, not knowledge, was what I needed to succeed.

Through that experience, I learned that the only way to achieve a serious, long-term goal is to grind away at it, day after day.

But how can we become consistent enough to take daily action? Willpower eventually runs out. Novelty wears off. Affirmations are not enough.

The best way, perhaps the only way, to stick with something, is to rely on something more powerful and less civilized than conscious thought. That is, habit.

So let’s look at how you can harness habit to achieve your goals for 2016.

Point 1 - Habits are a big part of our lives

You may not know this, but researchers say that 40% of our daily actions are unconscious. They’re habits!

We’d be OVERWHELMED if every action we took required a conscious decision. Habits, then, are an adaptation to save us energy in our day-to-day lives.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could control this UNCONSCIOUS behavior? 40% is a lot of time to spend on auto-pilot.

Point 2 - Habits are learnable

The good news is that, according to habit pioneer Charles Duhigg, you CAN learn new habits and train yourself out of the bad ones.

Here’s how.

Habits are made of three components:

  • Cue
  • Routine
  • Reward

For example:

Cue: “When I walk up to the elevator button.” Routine: “I press the button and ride the elevator to my apartment.” Reward: “I feel the comfort of entering my home.”

The trick is that as long as you maintain the same cue and same reward, you can change just about ANY habit into a new behavior!

So, to start getting more exercise, you’d have to simply change the routine, keeping the same cue and same reward.

That is,

Cue: “When I walk up to the elevator button.” Routine: “I tell myself that exercise is important so I take the stairs.” Reward: “I feel the comfort of entering my home.”

Now all you have to do is to adapt this framework to your situation.

Point 3 - This isn’t a new finding

And, by the way, this isn’t a new finding. Many of the most successful people are strong advocates of habit:

When writing a novel, Haruki Murakami famously maintains the exact same regimen every day: he wakes at 4AM, works for 5 hours, goes for a mile-long swim, then listens to music before bed, saying, “I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”

Prodigious author William Faulkner is quoted as saying, “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes at nine every morning.”

Conclusion - How to start on your habits

Convinced that habits can help you? On the fence? Either way,

Something that EVERYONE in this room has the time to do is to give yourself one week to try starting a new habit.

Go to tinyhabits.com and sign up for BJ Fogg’s free course. It will help you put this system into practice by learning ONE new habit that you’ve been meaning to pick up. That one tiny habit might just be what you were missing to accomplish your goals.

Good luck.

Written on January 13, 2016

David Kay has realized that The Matrix was indeed a documentary. Let's awaken together. If you found this article helpful, join his newsletter.