218. Wear your watch on your other wrist.

 

I was recently asked about the extent to which habits play a central role in every facet of our lives.

And I began thinking about how much we are governed by the unthinking, autonomic, almost robotlike behaviours that we repeat throughout each day.

We may call these actions a routine, or a pattern or a process but in the end our every day is filled with hundreds upon hundreds of things we do that are easily classified as habits.

Walk yourself through a typical day.

You wake up and what is the first thing you do? Almost certainly it is the same first thing you did yesterday and the day before and will most likely do tomorrow.

Perhaps you take a shower? Whatever routine you follow in he shower is the same as always.

Then you get dressed. Wearing a shirt? Which arm goes in the sleeve first? Pants? Which leg first?

Socks? Shoes? I think you get the drift.

Which wrist do you wear your watch on? Try moving it to the other side. Feels weird, doesn’t it?

What about your daily commute. Always take the same route?

These routines have become habituated within us. Most of these, being somewhat simple and innocuous, are easily changeable if we so desire. And yet they are, nevertheless habits and count among the hundreds we have all acquired.

Most of the results in our lives come from the habits we have developed or purposefully adopted and if we wish for any long-term and meaningful change we need to examine the habits we wish to change and then acknowledge that those behaviours we constantly repeat are not how the habits were formed, but are the result of a process that begins with a decision or a belief that resides in our heads.

In my day job as a coach I spent many years working with clients in improving the behaviours they thought were contributing to the long-term results in their lives and I constantly shared in their frustration as they struggled to sustain new behaviours.

It was only when I began to understand the extent to which habits drive results that I truly became a coach.

I have spent many years studying and learning everything I could regarding habits: what they are; how they are formed and how they can be changed.

Today I present myself as a Habits Coach for I have learned that the greatest benefit I can bring to my clients is to help them learn and practice the tried-and-true formula that goes into the formation, maintenance and sustaining of habits.

By recognizing that we repeatedly allow the same thoughts to cycle through a heads and that the first habit to work on is the one that changes the daily messaging we present to ourselves, I have been able to spare many clients the stress and frustration that comes when we try and change habits by placing all of our focus and attention on new behaviours.

What we call habits in our personal lives is what we call culture in our business and professional lives and in my role as a corporate consultant I utilize almost identical methodologies to change organizational culture as I do to assist my individual coaching clients in acquiring new habits.

If you find yourself irritated at the difficulties of adopting and sustaining long-term change in your personal life you are almost certainly running up against the steep challenges that go with changing habits.

If this is true for you, let me help. I will guide you through the process and you will never again have to experience the frustration that comes when we find ourselves going back to our old ways.

I am in the habit of always answering my phone. Call me

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

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217. First things first.

Whenever we try and change something about ourselves – quit smoking, lose weight, getting in shape, overcome our fear of public speaking – we invariably begin the journey of change by placing all of our focus on the new behaviours we believe will bring us the outcome we are striving for.

And, as so many of us have learned through repeated attempts, this method does not work.

It is interesting when our TV watching is interrupted by commercials and all of the big name weight loss organizations take over the screen to inform us of how they can help us realize our dreams by making our extra pounds disappear into the annals of history.

These commercials are all the same. They trot out their success stories and parade them in front of the cameras for all to see. “This is Jeff. He lost 106 pounds eating delicious meals.” “This is Belinda. Belinda lost 92 pounds following our cutting-edge, revolutionary new program.”

I have no doubt that Jeff and Belinda are real people and all the commercials for the weight loss organizations have their own Jeff’s and Belinda’s proudly showing off their new bodies.

 Here’s an interesting question: why are they not showing us are Jeff and Belinda from five, six or 10 years ago?  My guess would be because Jeff and Belinda, like the 97% of people who do achieve large weight loss, will have regained every ounce – usually with a bonus – well before the five-year anniversary of their accomplishment.

Changing behaviours does not lead to sustainable, long-term habits.

Let me repeat that – changing behaviours alone will not lead to sustainable, long-term habits.

There is an established pattern that must take place if we are to have any hope of ever establishing new habits. Behaviours are the very last step in the process, not the first.

New habits begin first and foremost with the choices we make. And the choice we must make is to create a new belief about who we are, what we are and what we do repeatedly.

A belief can take many forms: it may be a long-held viewpoint of something we believe to be true, it may be a short-term viewpoint of something we believe to be true or it may be a thought that occupies our awareness in the moment. The beliefs we hold profoundly influence our feelings, and it is our feelings – our emotions – that drive our actions or behaviours.

What this means is that if we are sincere in desiring new long-term, sustainable habits for ourselves, then rather than focusing on the behaviours necessary for those habits, we must first choose the belief(s) that will help us experience the emotions necessary to repeatedly choose the behaviours we wish to become part of our long-term being.

Almost all of the work I do as a Habits Coach is focused on helping my clients develop the habits that will take them from where they are to where they want to be.

If I am working with a salesperson who wishes to increase their sales, we do not even talk about the behaviours and practices needed to achieve this goal. Rather, our early time is spent building the story (a belief) that validates who that person wishes to become and then learning how to create the emotions that will drive and sustain the requisite successful selling behaviours.

Similarly, when a client wishes to lose weight our immediate focus is not on nutrition or exercise. It is intensely focusing on who or what that person believes  to be true of themselves, how they see themselves and how they feel about themselves.

Sometimes we don’t even discuss weight loss until the third, fourth, fifth, even sixth session or, third or fourth month into the process.

I know this is contrary to traditional thinking. The conventional wisdom encourages so many people to go down the pathway to despair by embracing the huge high that always accompanies great accomplishment, only to have that experience change to an overwhelming sense of failure and disappointment when the non-sustainability of their accomplishment returns them to their original starting point.

In the same way that habits don’t die easily, we don’t acquire good ones without serious intent and dedicated effort.

My job – one I have become exceptionally good at – is working with clients to achieve just that.

And if it’s true that our habits do indeed ultimately determine our destiny and shape the results in our lives, then investing wisely to develop the capacity to ensure you are living as purposeful and sculpted life as possible ought to be everyone’s number one priority.

Call me – I can help you achieve this and so much more.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

216. How you became you.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, it is a habit.” Aristotle.

These immortal words speak forcefully to a series of behaviours we constantly repeat and which, because of that repetition, have come to shape and mould us into who we are.

I have chosen to reshape one of my habits in the writing of this blog. Since the beginning 216 weeks ago, the format has been to discuss a particular habit for three consecutive weeks before moving on to the next one.

We have explored more than 70 different habits and for the next few weeks I would like to use this space to discuss how our habits shape our lives and therefore essentially forecast how we will behave in any given environment.

Aristotle said it best, “We are what we repeatedly do.” And by repeatedly doing the same things we skillfully sculpt ourselves into exactly who we are, whether intended or not.

There is an old saying that reminds us “old habits die hard.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Old habits do not die hard. In fact, they never die. When we work very diligently trying to change them, they simply shrink down in size and bury themselves deep within the recesses of our brains waiting for an opportunity to pounce and regain the power they once held over us.

If you take time to become a people watcher you will see habits repeating themselves with everyone you meet. You will see recurring facial expressions, gestures, body language, voice tones and even use of language.

One of the many reasons we struggle to bring long-term and sustainable change to our lives is because to do so we inevitably have to replace deeply entrenched, and comfortable, habits with new ones.  The challenge is those pesky old ones will always put up a heckuva fight.

Habits extend far beyond our expressions and gestures for they drive our every thought and influence our every decision.  Until we learn the mathematical equation that goes into forming habits, the change we seek in the long term will continue to be elusive and frustrating.

In my job as a Habits Coach, I work with my clients to shift the thinking that got them to where they are to the thinking that will take them to where they want to be, and once there, enable them to thrive.

In short, this means I help my clients develop new habits, for it is these habits that that help them forge the pathway to a new and improved life.

To do this each client must come to the realization that habits begin first and foremost in our heads and therefore, this is the place where we must begin if we wish to acquire new ones.

Mostly we try and acquire new habits by repeatedly attempting new behaviours. Those of us who have joined a gym only to stop attending after a few weeks or those who have gone through the painful process of weight loss only to see it creep back in record time, know only too well the sense of disappointment that accompanies our attempts to change habits by changing behaviours.

We are what we repeatedly do, which really means before we do it, we need to consciously choose to do it and then decide to do it.  The reality is if the habits aren’t in place, we will not continue to do it.

Habits are fascinating because humans are fascinating.

If you want to create meaningful and sustained change in your life, it takes work, lots of work.

One way or the other we all have more habits than we are even aware of and, like it or not, they have sculpted the person you have become and will continue to become.

If they are great, empowering habits, please keep them.  However, if they are not, you have the power to change them.

Your habits will always make or break you, choose wisely.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

215. How not to win friends and influence people.

A friend called the other day to remind me of the importance of The Habit of Checking Your Perspective.

The lesson was brought home to him recently when he and his wife joined two other couples for dinner.

The evening was pleasant, the meal delicious and the conversation friendly until the discussion turned to that most Canadian of topics – hockey.

The debate centered around who deserves the honour of being the greatest Canadian hockey player of all time and it took no time at all for tempers to flare.

Now you would think six adults could calmly discuss the pros and cons, the strengths and weaknesses and the highlights and disappointments of hockey players, past and present, while enjoying each other’s company and adding to the overall satisfaction of the evening.

Sadly, that was not the case. My friend said that after a few moments he and his wife sat back in open mouthed disbelief as the other two males shifted from friendly disagreement to anger, then yelling and finally flinging insults while their wives implored them to cut it out.

The home they were at belonged to one of the two feuding couples and it didn’t take long before the non-resident husband pushed his chair back and stormed out of the house somehow forgetting that he had left his wife behind.

His wife, clearly embarrassed by his puerile behaviour, announced that she would call a cab for a ride home but, would they mind if she stayed a little while and she was in no hurry to go home?

Meanwhile, the host-husband took the opportunity to announce that he was right all along and pointed to his visitor’s departure as proof positive that he was by far the most hockey knowledgeable person at the table.

He then turned to my friend and asked if he agreed.

My friend made the mistake of attempting to explain that neither of them were wrong nor right, that they will both merely expressing their opinions and that neither could produce irrefutable, indisputable facts to prove their point.

Big mistake.

The host saw this yet another challenge of his knowledge superiority and began questioning my friend’s intelligence. My friend refused to be drawn into the debate and before he could further present his thoughts on the role of perspective in our every waking moment, their hostess announced that she and my friend’s wife were going to going to the living room to have an intelligent conversation as far away from morons as possible.

My friend has long practiced The Habit of Checking Your Perspective. He is a strong advocate for its efficacy and, in fact, frequently uses The Habit of Checking Your Perspective as a means of bringing opposing sides together during his work as a Conflict Resolution Specialist and Mediator.

His story illustrates the need for us all to lean on The Habit of Checking Your Perspective whenever others present viewpoints that differ from our own.

This habit reminds us that relative to the number of opinions we have, there are very few facts available to irrefutably and indisputably prove either side of most arguments. We are best served when we take time to understand those opposing viewpoints and realize that they are as true and factual to those presenting them as our viewpoints are to us.

Our perspective is all we have at our disposal to make sense of the world. It places our unique frame around each belief and opinion we have and often deceives us into believing that these opinions and beliefs represent fact.

They seldom do.

The Habit of Checking Your Perspective enables and empowers us to respect and appreciate opposing viewpoints without necessarily compromising our own.

Many of my clients have reported on the immense positive impact adapting his simple strategy has had on their mental and, dare I say, physical well-being.

Let me help you to switch your focus from needing to be right to wanting to be better informed.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

214. I am my perspective and my perspective is me.

From time to time, in my day job, I am asked to play the role of mediator.

I have worn this hat on more than 200 occasions and am always amazed at how the causes behind the discontent that brings two or more people to the brink of war almost always come down to the same drivers.

The parties involved were looking at the same situation from opposing angles. In other words, they were all seeing the same things and then placing different meanings on them.

The Habit of Checking Your Perspective offers a unique opportunity to remind ourselves that  all we have available to us to make sense of the world in which we live, is the interpretation we place on events in our lives.

Facts in and of themselves play only a small role in the way we make our way through life. Our feelings play a far greater role in the quality of our lives than facts ever can and these feelings are formed by our perspective – the meaning we place on events rather than the events themselves.

Much like the chicken and the egg theory, we can never be sure whether our emotions are the result of our perspective or whether our perspective is triggered by our emotions

Mediation is often requested when two or more people, or two or more groups of people, seem unable to play nicely together in in a sandbox, with each side explaining the need for the invasion.

My role as mediator is not to favour one side over the other, nor is it to change the opinion of any one group.

My role is simpler than that: it is to encourage each side to expand their viewpoint so as to accept that as committed as they may be to the “truth” of their position, their position is neither right nor wrong, it is the meaning they have chosen to make sense of the situation.

Recently I met with two groups of executives of a large multinational corporation. They were bitterly divided over the direction they felt the company should take and, as you may have guessed, neither side was willing to concede that the other had any validity to their viewpoint.

Both sides were equally keen to point out that theirs was a “fact-based” position, and therefore correct; the other side “didn’t know what they were talking about.”

This was not an uncommon starting point as most of us are of the opinion that what we believe to be true represents irrefutable, indisputable fact, which of course must mean any viewpoint to the contrary can only be wrong.

We spent considerable time talking about the power of perspective and its effect upon us and I introduced The Habit of Checking Your Perspective with a strong recommendation that it be practiced by all.

To my delight, it was, and within a few days both sides were willing to start looking for the positives in the others opinion while at the same time becoming willing to more closely examine their facts.

As we have said many times; everything we believe to be true is true, for us, until it isn’t. I know of no greater way of broadening our perspective than a willingness to explore and seek the positive and the good in the perspective of others, because this practice our willingness to explore other possibilities.

It is said that the quality of our lives is merely the quality of our perspective which means we have the gifted ability to see opportunity in adversity, future joy in present sadness and a bright and shiny light in our moments of deepest darkness.

And with a little practice The Habit of Checking Your Perspective could help get you there in record time.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

213. Your opinion versus my facts.

Just last week I listened, with thinly veiled contempt, as a close, but obviously not too bright friend waxed philosophic, singing the praises of a contemptible, high profile politician.

I was about to put a stop to this foolishness and point out the errors in his thinking when I remembered a simple truth; my description of the value of this politician to him would sound as ridiculous as his did to me.

So rather than going through the futile exercise of educating him about how wrong he was I decided instead to do something different.

I granted myself permission to attempt to see the world through the eyes of my friend. I listened very carefully to all he was saying and worked hard at agreeing with it all. I began to see what he saw and, by so doing, changed slightly what I was seeing.

My friend was privy to many of the same details and facts as I was regarding this person and by pretending to be him, I was starting to accept, as fact, some of the same things he believed to be true.

I was practicing The Habit of Checking Your Perspective and in doing so, I was reminding myself that my viewpoint, my opinion, of this politician was not based upon any of the available facts known about him, but rather on my interpretation of those facts.

My friend, in viewing identical facts was placing an entirely different meaning on those facts, thus leading him to the (painfully wrong) perspective he was sharing with me.

The Habit of Checking Your Perspective is a sobering tool to have nearby at all times. It serves to remind us that while there are very few facts (irrefutable, indisputable and agreed upon by all) in the world, there is an abundance of opinions masquerading as facts.

Everything we believe to be true is true (for us) until it isn’t and whenever we believe something to be true, we present it as an absolute fact.

The Habit of Checking Your Perspective encourages us to be more empathic as we listen to the divergent opinions of those with whom we strongly disagree.

This empathy expands the boundaries of our own thinking and, while it may not cause us to change our own minds, it encourages us to see the world through the eyes of others.

By doing this during the conversation with my friend I began to understand why, and how, he could view this person in a light so very different from mine. And I was able to expand my own thinking to include the possibility (extremely remote) that there may be some (slim) value to what my friend was saying.

The power behind The Habit of Checking Your Perspective lies in its ability to defuse anger, set aside frustration and engage in earnest debate that enriches all sides without necessarily changing opinions.

And when we open our hearts and minds to the opinions of others, respect their differences while embracing sameness’s, we quickly realize that we are divided by perspective, not by facts and therefore can enjoy engaging debate, filled with differences of opinion, while retaining quality relationships and developing new ones.

As a wise friend once told me, there is a big difference between, “I agree” and “I understand”.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

212. One question can change your life.

Allow me to introduce you to my good friend, Sally

Sally is one of the few people to successfully create monumental change in her life and sustain those changes for more than five years.

The available data on the human capacity for long-term change is disheartening. Fewer than five percent can maintain change for long periods of time and Sally’s story is a remarkable one, indeed.

I first met Sally in 2008; she was working in a company in which I was doing a large project and she was a team member in one of the groups I regularly met with.

One day she confided in me of her lifelong struggle to get control of her ever-increasing weight.

At 5’6”, she was rapidly approaching the 300-pound mark and, despite her bouncy and jovial outward appearance, her days were filled with despair.

As a veteran of many of the weight loss programs – Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Dr. Bernstein, Herbalife and a myriad of others – Sally was at her wits end.

And then a strange thing happened. A comment from her family doctor during a routine visit left her reeling. The doctor said, “You know Sally, there is a reason why you have been struggling for so long with the same issue. The reason you have not lost the weight is quite simply because it is not important enough to you. If it was important enough you would have done this a long time ago.  I know you’re going to disagree with me and tell me it is very important but, the facts are clear, it just isn’t important enough.”

Sally went home furious at her doctor’s insensitivity. How dare she talk to me like that? And as she played those words over and over in her head throughout the evening, an even stranger thing happened.

She wondered if perhaps her doctor was right?

And then she made a decision that has permanently changed her life in a way she had only ever dreamed of before.

Sally decided to make weight loss an extremely important part of her future. She committed to not only losing the excess weight, but to keeping it off forever.

And so she began a regimen that has stayed with her to this day.

Before eating or drinking anything she asks herself this question, “Is it more important to eat this (pizza, candy, junk food) now or is it more important to reach, and stay with, my ideal goal weight in the future?”

A simple question which soon became a habit.

Sally made The Habit of Making It Important and inexorable part of her life and a wonderful thing happened. The weight she had carried for years began to leave her body. As she asked herself that question each day and always chose her that which was most important, she began to feel a sense of ownership and control she had never previously experienced.

With her confidence boosted by a newfound power, Sally began asking this question in other areas of her life and always allowed the answer to determine her action.

Within a year and a half her weight was down to 130 pounds and she has not gained one ounce since then.

The Habit of Making It Important also nudged her back to school where she completed an MBA, something Sally had long wanted to achieve, but somehow the excuses always got in the way.

So much has changed in her life since “the day my doctor told me the truth,” that she has made it her life’s mission to share The Habit of Making It Important, and its corresponding benefits, with anyone who will listen.

Today Sally’s smile is infectious, her energy endless and her love of life enviable.

We have often discussed the fact that we all only ever do one thing – we do what is most important to us in the moment – and my pal Sally is living proof that when we choose to make the important things important, wonderful things happen.

What’s important to you?

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.