Your 5 Steps to Create Lasting Change
This word alone usually makes us cringe. We immediately think of our bad habits. And we all know the adage: old habits die hard.
But a habit is simply a manner, practice, or pattern of behavior acquired through frequent repetition. It can be helpful, harmful, or neutral.
While many of our habits are unconscious (hence why they’re often bad), the good news is that if we bring awareness to them — make them part of our conscious choice — we can create positive change in our life.
The focus then becomes not so much on breaking bad habits (which may happen naturally anyway) but on creating new habits. Healthy habits. Empowering habits.
This is important because it means that we can use the unique wiring of our brain (this is what makes us creatures of habit) to our advantage.
Goals and resolutions always seem to be the go-to strategy for people seeking big change. And they are important when you need to orient yourself in a specific direction. But the key to getting results actually lies in your day-to-day behaviors. As author James Clear wrote,
“Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.”
So, what does it take to create a new habit?
The very first step is awareness.
So let's take a look at awareness as well as the next four steps that follow in the 5 Steps of Change™ model. This model is an essential foundation to lay before building any new habit.
I introduced the 5 Steps of Change™ in a previous article, and if you’ve ever worked with me, this will be familiar. This model helps us navigate change for ourselves — and for the people we lead.
Now, take a moment to think about a new habit you desire to implement. You might even want to write it down. It can be as simple as flossing your teeth each night. Or maybe you want to start meditating in the mornings. Your new habit could be telling people what you appreciate about them.
Ok, now that you have your new habit clearly in mind, let’s ascend the steps. Feel free to jot down your thoughts on each step as it pertains to your new habit or the change you wish to implement.
1. Awareness. You have a desire to change your behavior (or your team’s) because you want a different outcome. We cannot continually do the same thing and expect a different result. So, what needs to change? How do you know it needs to change?
The only way to make change is to become aware of what you want to be different. That awareness might come from your boss, your significant other, a friend, or your own mindfulness.
If this change is massive and complex, break it down into smaller parts and start with one thing. For example, I recently realized that my weekly meetings need to be more productive. I was coming to the meeting not knowing the topics of discussion. So I decided to form a habit of reviewing my huddle notes before the start of each meeting so I had clarity and direction.
2. Desire. This is the why that drives change. Why do you want to form this new habit? How will it benefit you if you do? How will it hurt you if you don’t?
If you don’t have a meaningful reason for the change, don’t expect it to last. Generally speaking, we are motivated by either decreasing pain or increasing pleasure; and one might work better than the other, depending on the circumstance.
In the example of my huddle notes, my lack of being prepared was wasting time during the meeting (pain). I don’t like wasting time, and I think it’s rude to not be prepared, so this is important to me. In other situations I’m motivated by knowing how great I’ll feel if I do something (pleasure). This is the desire behind my daily walk. I know I’ll feel refreshed and energized after walking.
3. Knowledge. The how and the what. I realized I wasn’t looking at my weekly huddle notes because they were moved to a new location. How will I form the new habit of reviewing them each week?
I decided to schedule a reminder on my calendar with the name of the file where the huddle notes are located. I know it will only take a few times doing this to create the habit.
In the knowledge step you need to gather any items and information required for establishing the habit so there are no questions or excuses.
4. Action. We have to just do it. Once you’ve reached this step you have everything you need to just go. Don’t overthink it.
You’ll have a better chance at success if your new habit is obvious, easy, and satisfying. With small steps, like small habits, you eventually go great distances! Remove any obstacles as you go. Remind yourself every day why this new habit is important to you.
James Clear said, “You’re taking the smallest action that confirms the type of person you want to be.”
5. Perseverance. If you get off track, just get back on. For instance, if I forget to look at my calendar notes, I’ll cut myself some slack, and get back on track asap. (If it happens again, I need to go back to Steps 2 and 3.)
Remember, this is about long-term behavioral change, so don’t strive for perfection. If you find yourself stalled, go back to Steps 2 and 3 and make sure you know your why and your how.
Keep it simple. Don’t be consumed by the end goal. Be determined to become a better person in the now (not the future).
It may help to schedule future reminders to check yourself. I’ll often put notes that pop up in my calendar that say “I want to feel organized. Checking huddle notes before your meetings? Good for you!”
These are the 5 Steps of Change™ that will set you up for establishing new habits that eventually lead to big change. There are innumerable tips and tricks for optimizing your new habit formation (such as habit stacking, loophole spotting, and temptation bundling), and I encourage you to explore them and see which ones work for you, but if you don’t lay the foundation first, you will have a hard time creating any lasting change.
We should feel good about creating any new habits, especially those that will enhance our life, benefit our relationships, or improve our career. Habits practiced deliberately will eventually be automated and lead to the next level of performance. And this is how we achieve results.
It’s really just a strategic process of becoming the best version of yourself. And it is a journey. So, take a nice deep breath, smile, and appreciate where you are. Then begin.