Burnout Recovery

Ep#84 Building new habits the easy way

July 06, 2023 Dex Randall Season 2 Episode 84
Burnout Recovery
Ep#84 Building new habits the easy way
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

 Getting new habits to stick can be a challenge(!), so here are some excellent tweaks to make habit-forming as close to effortless as it gets!

Starting small and easy, with plenty of reward, turns out to be the best way to get a new habit off the ground. What doesn't work is over-taxing yourself, dropping out and judging yourself a failure! Think Duo Lingo! 

This episode is packed with more tips for getting off to a flying start.

 Show Notes:
 Atomic Habits, James Clear https://www.amazon.com/Atomic-Habits-James-Clear-audiobook/dp/B07J1PMF1H
 Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, Dr Joe Dispenza https://www.amazon.com/Breaking-Habit-Being-Yourself-Dispenza-ebook/dp/B006M7A8JI 

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0:00:09.4 Dex: Hi everyone. My name's Dex Randall and this is the Burnout to Leadership Podcast, where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work.

0:00:23.1 Dex: Hello, my friends. This is Dex. Welcome to the pod. Thank you for listening in, especially if you are new, welcome. And today what we're gonna talk about is making it as easy as possible to create new positive habits. And don't we wish it was easy. So this is really if you're developing the skill of creating new habits, it's just something that you learn how to do. It's a really great tool for self-leadership, the kind that's gonna allow you to outgrow your limiting behaviours and beliefs and adopt new growth ones. And what's not to love about that? But, of course, if we're going to generate new habits, we're probably tossing out a few old ones at the same time, it really means overcoming our own laziness and distractibility and other evils that we entertain. And it also involves embracing our long-term goal as our best friend, rather than giving in our previous best friend instant gratification.

0:01:24.4 Dex: And that's a challenge for most of us. And in this work, I lean as ever on the shoulders of others, the standout this time is James Clear, who wrote a very excellent book, "Atomic Habits" that describes in great and explicit detail, every tiny help you can give to a new habit as you're growing it to make it stick. And also it's a bit sciencey, it's very science-backed which I love too. And one of the reasons I'm talking about this now is I'm in the process of adopting some new habits myself. One of which is, I carry quite a lot of muscular tension in my body. And I'd really like to be more physically relaxed. It's an old pattern of mine and it's not a great experience, and I just think, well, maybe there's something I can do about it. So I'm in the process of changing my diet and my exercise and stretching regime, and I also noticed that I'm a little bit dehydrated.

0:02:24.3 Dex: So, I'm implementing a new system to make sure that I drink at least two and a half litres of water every day. I have one cup of coffee a day, and about four or five cups of Herbal tea, and the habit is just about the water. So I'm gonna use that as an example here just to kind of show you where I'm going with this. So I've got a small cup that sits on a table near my water filter. And as I go to bed each night at home, I put five pegs into it, four yellow pegs and one green peg. And each peg represents half a litre of water the size of my water glass. Could be anything, I just use pegs, I like the colours. [chuckle]

0:03:10.2 Dex: Anyway, next morning from then the, all the pegs are in the glass. Every time I bring an empty glass back to the water filter to refill it, I take a peg outta the glass and put it on the table until I make a row. And I always leave the green one until last because that's the prize. So now if I see four pegs in a row, I can't wait to get the green one. The green one's where I hit my goal. So as well, it's in my kitchen, so I pass the water filter in the pegs every time I go in the kitchen. And so it keeps reminding me, and every time I pass a little row of pegs, I feel the urge to add another peg. And that's it really. That's the new habit. It's quite easy in fact.

0:04:00.2 Dex: So what we're gonna look at today is some of the ways that we can actually make creating new habits easier. And some of those are embedded in what I've just suggested to you. And I think, first of all, we need clarity of purpose. We need to know why we are doing the thing that we are trying to do. Why are we changing habits in the first place? What is creating a new habit gonna do for us? I think we need to be really clear about who we want to be in the future when we have this new habit, where does that take us? And we quite often talk, don't we, about goals particularly in self-development, we talk about goals, and in business, we talk about goals. But generating a new habit, it's not so much a goal that you set because that would invite you to feel like you'd failed if you missed a day with your habit. It can be used against ourselves in a way that's quite demoralizing. So I think about it in terms of generating a new habit, how I prefer to look at it is I'm going in a new direction. As long as that continues to be more or less my direction of travel, I'll eventually arrive at a place where I have a new habit if I keep moving.

0:05:10.5 Dex: So then it doesn't matter if I have a couple of days where I miss or one day when I miss or whatever, I can still keep going without feeling that I've let myself down, that I've failed, I'm not good enough, et cetera. That whole story never cuts in. And one of the things James Clear talks about in his book about habits is that you need to start easy. So, if you want to run a marathon the first day out, how many miles are you gonna run? Half a mile, a mile. If you've never run before, probably not far, you might walk a bit. And starting easy is what helps us to keep a streak going of doing it day by day by day. If we make it easy, we'll do it every day, every day, every day. Like if you wanna do a hundred push-ups, just do one on the first day or one a day for the first week, and then you'll feel good about yourself by the end of the first week because you will have done it every single day. And it's already starting to impress a habit into you rather than saying you'll start at 20 press-ups a day and then only doing five and just feeling completely demoralised and giving up.

0:06:16.4 Dex: So it's all about tiny wins, really. It's about whatever habit you develop, it starts very tiny and very easy, as easy as possible. But incrementally you can just keep pushing it forward. If you pushed it forward by one per cent every day, eventually you would reach your goal, whatever that may be because the 1% compounds, doesn't it? So start small, make it easy, and get the wins on the board. Start to develop a habit at a very, very low level nowhere near your goal, if you can do that.

0:06:47.9 Dex: The other thing that he said really helps is pairing your new habit with an existing habit. Maybe if you get up and brush your teeth every morning, do something right after you brush your teeth. Maybe you brush your teeth and do one push-up. Do with something that you always do. And then if it's quick and easy, you'll do it. You'll do the second habit afterwards as well. Particularly if you do it in a specific order. Not that I'm gonna get up in the morning and do a push-up, but I'm gonna get up in the morning and brush my teeth and then do a push-up immediately 'cause it attaches the two habits together. It makes a bond between them and it makes it easier to follow a process that's consistent and also at a consistent time of day. Not one day I'll do a push-up in the morning. The next day I'll do it at lunchtime. Next day I'll do it in the evening. Next day I'll do it before I go to bed.

0:07:36.6 Dex: That's not developing a habit that's... It's kind of leaking energy already. It's leaking consistency. And the other thing which is what I do with the pegs is self-reward. It needs to be so all of the things that we do, compulsively, addictively, Netflix, checking our phone, all of those types of things have a dopamine reward. All of the things that we're addicted to because they give us a dopamine spike in the brain. And that reward system is actually what entrenches a habit as well. It increases our motivation to do the thing again. So a dopamine spike is good for us if it's taking us in a direction of a habit we want to generate. Not quite so good If we are going in a direction we don't. So if it's a gambling habit and we don't wanna keep gambling and having the dopamine spike that creates the habit is not helpful. For me with my hydration, getting a little dopamine in spike would be terrific if it inspired me to keep going with the habit the next day 'cause this is a subconscious function, right?

0:08:42.3 Dex: The dopamine imprints a memory and the subconscious mind goes, "I'll make that happen again. I'll make that happen again. That was good for you." A bit like sugar. So sugar in limited proportions gives us a dopamine hit and is productive 'cause it can be used as energy. But these days when we eat mountains and mountains of sugar when sugar's embedded in every product that we buy, having that dopamine hit and craving sugar is not so fantastic. So, okay then so a self-reward is a dopamine hit, but it's a much smaller one than you would get, for example, from sugar. Sugar's a very high, strong dopamine hit. Coffee can produce the same effect. So that's why I only have one a day. But what we need to do is we need to find a way of giving ourselves that little tiny dopamine hit so that we can just go, "That was good." A bit like I do with seeing my pegs in a row. For some reason, I find that very satisfying.

0:09:42.3 Dex: A minute ago there was only two pegs, now there's three and they're in a nice row. It is pleasing to my eye in a very childish way and it makes me want to put more pegs in the row. So that's just a tiny little, "Oh dopamine hit." And I also think that the way I think about my hydration is, it's a gift to me. It's who I want to be. I'd like to be a hydrated person. I used to be, I don't know what went wrong, I used to drink about three or so litres a day. Now it's down. So I want to become the person who feels relaxed in my muscles, relaxed in my body, partly because I drink enough water and I'm hydrated all the time. So I do think when I'm putting the pegs in a row, I think, "Gift to self, gift to self, that's good. This is who I wanna be. I want to feel better. I want my muscles to feel more hydrated and relaxed and smoother."

0:10:40.8 Dex: I think one of the apps that I look at from time to time Duolingo is really good at providing this kind of reward. I don't know if you ever used Duolingo. If you haven't, you can just go to their website and check it out without even signing in. And they give you these little, little cheers when you get one of their questions right. Duolingo is learning a language and it asks you a question or gives you a prompt, and you have to get the answer right by arranging words or translating or whatever. And it jumps up and down with glee whenever you succeed which I like. I'm very easily pleased in that way. The other thing it does is it records your streaks. So it says at the beginning, how many, what's your intensity? Do you wanna go zero to five per cent intensity or more intensity? How much of a habit, how strong of a habit, and how regular a habit do you wanna develop? And you choose and it tries to provide you with that level of questioning that's at your level of investment if you like.

0:11:44.8 Dex: And it measures your streaks in days. Did you do your 5% today? Did you do it the next day? The next day? And it tells you how many days you've got in the streak. Not unusual, any habit-forming app will do this, but what it does is if you miss a day, it doesn't penalize you for it at all. It goes, "Oh look, you've missed a day. We'll give you a dog's life on that one. Have another go. If you come back in again tomorrow, having missed a day, we'll call it a streak still." So it's not do or die if. It's like developing a gym habit, as soon as you miss one day, you're very unlikely to go back the next day because you've got guilt loaded on top of the difficulty of motivating yourself in the first place. So Duolingo kind of eliminates that. It doesn't punish you for breaking a streak. "He goes, yeah, come on. You can do it. Just put in another little bit and you can stay on the streak that you've got."

0:12:40.3 Dex: Love that intensely because the other real thing that will stop us from generating a habit is what we tell ourselves about it and how we feel about ourselves in it. So if we miss a day and we tell ourselves we failed, it's hopeless, blah, blah, blah, it's gonna destroy our motivation for the following day. And also we're gonna start feeling guilt or shame or hopelessness or some feeling we didn't wanna feel and feeling that feeling will be so unpleasant. We are almost certainly gonna turn away. We're not gonna go back and have another go because it looks like signing up for more pain at that point, doesn't it? So one of the real...

0:13:25.4 Dex: Assets that you can have when you're developing a new habit is, number one, view yourself in a positive light that you are having occasional fails perhaps, but still progressing down the line towards your direction of travel, right? We talk about the direction of travel, not necessarily a do-or-die goal. It will die if you miss a day. Nothing like that. The direction of travel has a little bit of tolerance for not doing it every day. If we do that we'll, we'll find a way to encourage ourselves rather than discourage ourselves. But also we have to prepare to be prepared to feel the emotion of failure. Let's say I missed five days. That's how I went. I went crazy. I missed five whole days. Now I'm really, really demoralised. I don't wanna be demoralised. The best way through that to get back on the bus is to allow myself to feel demoralised.

0:14:20.7 Dex: Okay, what does demoralise feel in my body right now? If I breathe into my body, where is the sensation? Where is the tension or the heat or the friction? Where, what am I feeling inside my body when I feel demoralised, where is it? Can I locate that sensation in my body and just notice it? Because every emotion has a signature set of sensations in the body. Emotion is just energy, energy in motion, energy passing through my body. So if I am willing to notice that I feel, for example, discouraged and I'm willing to notice what that discouragement feels like in my body, suddenly I'm not resisting my emotions.

0:15:03.0 Dex: I'm feeling my emotions all the way and, it diffuses the suffering associated. Otherwise, we've got compound suffering. I'm discouraged and then I'm discouraged about being discouraged or I'm disappointed that I'm discouraged it kind of daisy chains. Being willing to feel your emotions as they arise, particularly the negative emotions that come up when you're trying to generate a habit and not doing very well turns out to be a superpower. And when you're willing to feel one emotion, you're probably willing to feel all your emotions 'cause they're all just vibrations in the body and not really gonna hurt you.

0:15:44.0 Dex: So resisting and running away from our emotions or condemning and judging our emotions, there's a fix for that. And it's just by feeling them all the way through and just going, "Okay, right now I feel discouraged. Tomorrow I'm gonna start again and still backing myself." The other thing about generating a new habit is it is very fault tolerant because it's all about, people say, how long does it generate... Take to generate a new habit? And I've read in quite a lot of places, it was 28 days. Turns out there's no scientific basis for that. It's actually the number of repetitions and the consistency of repetition generates a new habit.

0:16:23.2 Dex: So, when you don't do it one day, it doesn't actually matter as long as you jump back in the next day or the day after that and resume and do the number of repetitions that you need to make this habit so unconscious that you don't have to think about it, that it's self-perpetuating. And the thing that can help as well with that is don't spend time noticing how far you are from the place you're trying to get to. It's like, it's not productive, it's not a productive thing to do. Particularly when you're early days of a habit. Let's say if, if you want to generate a new pattern of eating in order to lose weight and you think, "Well, I've got X pounds to lose and I've only lost two or three pounds, it's hopeless."

0:17:15.7 Dex: It doesn't matter. Actually, the place to spend your, to put your energy is on the two or three pounds that you've lost. Always put your energy on what the winds were in the process, not how far you've got to go which is irrelevant as long as you keep travelling, you'll get there. But to encourage yourself the most, to keep up the habit, show yourself your wins every day. Write them down. What did I do today that was constructive towards my habit? What have I done this week that's helping me build a new habit? Really notice that and spend time with that.

0:17:51.9 Dex: And the other thing that you can do if you've got a task or a time-based habit is, again, start easy. So if you plan to do, I don't know, some study, if you've got some books you wanna read or some study you wanna do or some accounting or something you don't really like doing, you wanna get a daily habit of half an hour. Start with a minute and then next week go to two minutes, then go to five minutes and build it up, build it up. Don't try and tax yourself too much at the beginning, but do set a time limit on how long you're gonna do it. Don't say, "I'm gonna do all the accounting until it's finished tonight." 'Cause it probably won't be finished. So just say, "I'm gonna do half an hour. I'm gonna stop at the end of half an hour. I'm gonna do five minutes stop at the end of five minutes. Even if I'm on a roll, even if it's going gloriously. Even if I've got plenty more to do and more energy in the tank to do it. I said I was gonna do five minutes, I'll do five minutes." It really helps incent you to go out on a high and come back and do that five minutes again tomorrow.

0:19:00.9 Dex: So that's some ideas today about generating new habits. I'm very enthused about my new water habit at the moment. It's going extremely well because the pegs thing on the table don't even ask. I don't know why I love seeing those pegs in a row, but I do. And when there are only four, I will definitely drink another one, no matter what. So I hope some of the ideas that you've heard here are helpful to you. Please don't just listen, please test them out for yourself. There is no point in me telling you anything about habits. If you have got one that you'd like to generate and you don't apply any of the techniques, Atomic Habits by James Clear is chock full of ways to make generating a new habit easier. There is a very long list of things that you can do to help yourself out. So go and read that book. It's in the show notes.

0:19:49.8 Dex: Thank you so much for being here today. And if you aim burnout, please do listen to the link at the end. You must come and talk to me about how to recover quickly and sustainably, get back to your best performance, leadership, and most of all, enjoyment inside work and out. And if you enjoyed this episode, please help us reach more people in burnout by rating and reviewing this podcast. I thank you kindly. And finally, if you know somebody else who is struggling with burnout or near burnout, please send them the link to this podcast. I recommend that if you are new, you listen to at least the first five episodes to get started. They'll get you off the ground. Lovely being here with you today. Thank you for your time. I'll catch you next time. If you are in burnout and ready to recover, come and join my Burnout to Leadership program. You can book in to talk with me at  burnout.dexrandall.com. Just tell me what's bugging you and let's make a plan to fix it.

Creating New Positive Habits
James Clear's Book "Atomic Habits"
Making New Habits Easier
Topic 1: Developing Positive Habits
Topic 2: Feeling Emotions and Overcoming Failure
Topic 3: Building Habits and Focusing on Wins