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Thursday, 2 February 2012

zen habits: The Two-Headed Beast of Successful Habit Change

zen habits: The Two-Headed Beast of Successful Habit Change

The Two-Headed Beast of Successful Habit Change

Posted: 02 Feb 2012 08:20 AM PST

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Tyler Tervooren of Advanced Riskology.

I used to have a lot of bad habits. I still do, but I used to have a lot more. Here's just a small sampling:

  1. I woke up late and went to bed early.
  2. I procrastinated on my most important work.
  3. I neglected my relationships.
  4. I drank too much.
  5. I bit my fingernails.
  6. I slouched a lot.
  7. I picked my nose (no joke).
  8. I bought worthless things I didn’t need.
  9. I chewed with my mouth open.
  10. I dressed like a slob.
  11. I ate tons of junk food.

I could go on, but none of that’s incredibly important. What’s important is that I used to have a lot of bad habits, and now I have fewer.

I spent years dissatisfied with my habits and never made much progress changing them. Yes, sometimes I’d make a small step forward, but it usually wasn’t long until I was back to “Old Tyler” again (thanks, procrastination habit).

I’m fortunate to have learned recently that it doesn’t have to be this way.

I always thought I could change things myself — I’m a die-hard do-it-yourselfer — so I never gave a second thought to any other way.

The thing that helped me finally knock out that eleven point list (plus a few other habits I’m too embarrassed to mention here), took a real leap of faith; I let someone help me.

It started as a practical matter. I decided to try vegetarianism and recruited my girlfriend to try it with me so we could eat together. That lasted more than a year before consciously changing diets. We did the same thing to stop biting our nails.

For the very first time, I was developing habits that I created on purpose. It felt great — like I was really in control of my life after years of spinning my wheels.

How could I keep this going?

At the time, I was so fiercely independent that I hardly realized what had contributed to the success. It took a few more heart-crushing failures with other goals before finally getting the picture.

Late in 2010, a friend mentioned he wanted to wake up earlier to get more work done in the morning. I remembered how much I enjoyed waking up early when I actually did it, so I agreed to a six o'clock meeting and accountability report every morning. Almost one year later, we’re still going strong.

It’s pretty amazing what a little accountability can do for your motivation.

Since then, I’ve wised up and started recruiting partners to help me with all of my big goals:

The difference is incredible.

The secret is that, for some of us, successful habit change is a two-headed beast — not something to be tackled alone. If you’ve struggled with habit change yourself, recruit some help.

But who do you ask? And how do you find the right partners in crime? Unfortunately, not just anyone is a good fit. Picking the right person that will compliment you is just as important as picking someone at all.

Fair warning: Friends and relatives do not always make the best accountability partners.

Through plenty of trial and error, I’ve found a few characteristics that I look for in someone I’m about to partner with to make an important life change. Perhaps they’ll help you find a good fit, too.

  • They’re a little ahead of you, but not too far ahead. In a good accountability partnership, one person is usually at least a little bit further beyond the other. Though you’re both helping each other, one person stands out as the more likely mentor. Otherwise, it’s the blind leading the blind. And you don’t want your partner to be too far ahead of you, or the relationship is unbalanced and feels awkward.
  • They’re a little bit competitive. You probably don’t want someone who's looking to stick it to you every chance they get, but you’ll get a lot further a lot faster if your accountability partner isn’t satisfied with self defeat and is willing to actually hold you accountable.
  • They have similar goals to you. You don’t have to be working on the exact same thing to work well with a partner — it can be great to work together on separate projects — but there should be an obvious overlap of your big goals. There needs to be something that ties you two together beyond just “wanting to change something.”
  • They’re focused. If you agree to meet for 10 minutes each day, but never seem to get anywhere because your meetings are unfocused, first look at yourself. Are you dragging things off course on a regular basis? If not, then it’s probably time to find a more focused partner.
  • They’re supportive when you need it.  This goes back to competitiveness. You want your partner to push you and hold you accountable — that’s what they’re there for — but a good one also has your best interest at heart and knows when you need a little lift instead of a scolding.
  • They show commitment. The truth is that you can usually tell if a partnership like this is going to work within a week. If your accountability partner can’t even get it together at the very beginning when excitement is running high, that’s a pretty good indication they’re not committed to change. Best to get out. This doesn’t make them a bad person, but it probably makes them a bad partner for now.

If you’ve ever struggled with making an important habit change in your life, then I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and ask for help. If you're like me, it could turn everything around.

What do you want to change? Who can help?

Tyler Tervooren writes for a team of highly skilled risk takers helping each other do meaningful things in their lives at Advanced Riskology. Follow him on Google+.

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