Day 18: The 10-Step Life-Changer

I sometimes get asked how I made such a dramatic change in my life, from salary slave to ocean rower. I always feel like a bit of a fraud when I answer, because I really kind of stumbled out of one life and into a very different one, with my only guiding principle being that I wanted to look back and feel proud of the life I had lived.

But last night, as I was trying to get some sleep (not easy when the ocean is slapping you around) I was thinking about a friend of mine who struggles with his weight – as do many of us, but his weight gains and losses are more epic than most. And it inspired me to try and come up with a suggestion for how people might change their lives for the better.

My idea is this: Humans are creatures of habit, so by far the best way to make long-lasting changes for the better is to acquire good habits and drop bad ones. Simple enough so far?

This, however, is much easier said than done. The early days are the hardest, before it becomes a habit and is still a conscious effort. So the cornerstone of this plan is not to backslide. Once you’re a few days into a new habit you’ve already done the hardest part, so don’t make yourself go through it again. Reassure yourself that it will only get easier as time goes on.

So the first thing to do is to decide your objective. I’m using weight control as an example, inspired by my friend, but you could apply the same plan to: – living a greener (or bluer) lifestyle – being a more caring spouse – being more effective at your job – taking a more relaxed attitude to life – or anything else you choose.

Then identify the 10 (or so) good habits you would need, and the 10 (or so) bad habits that you would drop, in order to achieve that objective. If you’re not sure where to start, read a relevant book (see below) or pick a role model. Obviously, apply some intelligence here. Your role model may be a knockout salesperson and she may wear 4 inch heels, but the two are not necessarily connected, and it may not serve you well to do the same. Especially if you are a man.

So my particular example lists would be something like this (ranked from hardest to do to easiest to do, and I’ve just put 7 here so as not to get too long-winded):

My habits to lose: 1. iced caramel latte and bran muffin (for coffee-shop and journal-writing ritual) 2. wine 3. cookies 4. beer 5. good bread and butter 6. spirits (hard liquor) 7. sugary breakfast cereals

My habits to acquire: 1. Two hours of exercise, every day, and ride bike to gym 2. One hour of exercise, every day, and ride bike to gym 3. One hour of exercise, 5 times a week, and ride bike to gym 4. One hour of exercise, 5 times a week 5. One hour of exercise, 3 times a week 6. Go for a weekly hike with a friend 7. Park on far side of parking lot from where I want to be so I have to walk more

Then you put your plan into action. You start with the easiest item from each list (#7 in the example above), and you apply both at once. The idea is that you are so excited about your new good habit that it distracts you from your bad ex-habit.

Then, when you feel like those two new habits are sufficiently ingrained that they are now part of your lifestyle, move on to the next item up the list. There is no rigid timescale on this – just move to the next step when you feel comfortable that the last one is well bedded in.

The idea here is to start with some easy wins, and hence cultivate the most important habit of all – the habit of success. There is absolutely no point in setting yourself impossible targets and getting into a pattern of failure and self-recrimination. Make your easy habits as ridiculously easy as you like – just get into that habit of succeeding in your goals.

For me personally, I think I could get up to #3 or #2 on the list before I would start to really struggle. But that doesn’t matter. I might decide that this is as far as I am willing to go – that a couple of days off from the gym, and my cherished coffee-shop/journal therapy routine, are luxuries that I am going to allow myself to continue – now knowing that they ARE luxuries, a real treat, rather than just mindless habits.

OK, so it’s not going to change your life overnight, but most long-lasting changes are NOT overnight wonders – they’re the result of continued application. But it’s not all hard work – it really does get so much easier when it becomes a matter of habit rather than conscious effort.

And the best feeling will be when you look back in a few months or a few years, and see how far you’ve come from where you are today. The sense of achievement will make it all worthwhile.

So that’s my idea. I haven’t had a chance to test it – caramel lattes and bran muffins being, alas, very hard to come by on this part of the ocean – but it seems sensible in principle. Let me know what you think.

Hey, who knows, maybe I can publish a self-help book which will be a runaway success and I need never struggle for sponsorship money again!

Relevant books: Greener (bluer) lifestyle: 50 Ways to Save the Ocean (David Helvarg) Better spouse: I’ve no idea, although I’m sure there are hundreds in your local bookstore Better at your job: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Steven Covey) More relaxed attitude: The Art of Effortless Living (Ingrid Bacchi)

Other stuff:

Watermaker worked today. Danger of urine-drinking averted for another few days at least.

Weather and seas still rough. Forecast is for better conditions tomorrow. Hope I can still remember what to do with those long paddly things on the side of my boat.

(Picture: Weather needs to change – Roz at sea August 07)

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