To start a habit, focus on emotions

February 5, 2015 by Joshua
in Awareness, Exercises, Fitness, Habits, Leadership, Tips

Different people suggest starting habits different ways. Some say to start with behavior, like setting a New Year’s resolution or doing it every day for a month. Others suggest starting by changing your environment, like by putting a note on your computer monitor or daily schedule, wearing a device that measures your exercise, or joining a web page that tracks and reminds you.

That’s all low-level tactics. Tactics, no matter how effective, don’t work if the high-level strategy doesn’t work.

Effective strategy comes from knowing how the new habit will affect your life. What is its meaning, value, importance, and purpose (MVIP)? MVIP is based in emotion. That means what emotions do you expect the new habit to create.

If you expect the change to make you feel better overall in life and while you’re doing the habit, it doesn’t matter how you start, you’ll eventually give up. I’m not saying expecting something to improve your life will get you through it, but you have to have it or pick it up along the way.

Strategy: focus on emotions

  1. Start with awareness of how what you’re doing now feels
  2. Imagine how what you plan will make you feel
  3. Fit your tactics to the outcome you want

Example: fitness

If you want to improve your fitness, how will being more fit feel? Not just the new feelings you want, but all the new feelings you’ll get? Some questions you might ask:

  • How will having a flatter stomach feel?
  • How will you feel expecting to live longer to spend time with your kids?
  • How will you feel not getting to enjoy as much desserts and beer?
  • How will you feel eating out less and cooking more?
  • How will you feel exercising when you’re tired?

For me, I’ve found the answer to the first question overrides all the others. It feels great, even more for the challenge of the exercise and eating healthier. If you can’t say something similar, it doesn’t matter how effectively you start. If you consider enjoying sweets more important than the reward the fitness brings, you’ll start eating them again.

Example: waking up early

If you want to wake up earlier, how will the new habit make you feel? Not just the new feelings you want, but all the new feelings you’ll get?

  • How will you feel starting earlier in the day, waking up before dawn?
  • How will you feel getting things done in quiet time in the morning?
  • How will you feel stopping doing things you’re enjoying at night so you can sleep earlier?
  • How will you feel declining invitations when your schedule doesn’t match the people’s it used to?

Valuable relevant skill: know how your emotions work

My Model and Method series cover this. I’ll only mention here that your emotions don’t happen randomly. They react to your environments, beliefs, and behaviors.

Leading others

If you want to lead others to new behaviors, consider their emotions too. People tend to think first, in motivating others, to focus on external incentives like raises, bonuses, promotions, demotions, and such. Incentives influence emotions, but they aren’t emotions or motivations. The more you understand people’s emotions and motivations, the more effectively you’ll lead them.

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