By Leo Babauta
Changing habits, at its core, is simply a process of changing what’s normal for you.
This is something I’ve done myself a gajillion times over the last 7-8 years:
- not smoking became my new normal (lots of pain for a month or so)
- running became normal
- eating vegetarian became normal
- later eating vegan became normal
- writing every day became normal
- not having sugar in my coffee became normal
- eating whole foods (instead of junk foods) became normal
- meditating every morning became normal
- having less stuff and a simpler home became my new normal
- reducing and eventually (mostly) eliminating sugar became normal
- and so on: no car, walk and ride mass transit, do less, becoming content with myself, working for myself, etc.
In fact, you could say the last 8 years of my life has been a constant adjusting of what’s normal. Adjusting normal is my normal now.
However, for most people, changing is tough because there’s some pain in changing. When you have a problem, there is the pain it causes in your life, but there’s also a pain of trying to change it. When the payoff of trying to change is outweighed by the pay off of continuing the old way, people stick with what they’re comfortable with.
How do we overcome this problem of the pain of change? It’s the mantra of this site: Start small, start with one thing at a time, and make the change easier. You want to make changing the path of least resistance, because change usually isn’t for most people.
If you make a drastic change, it feels really hard and really different, and not something you can stick to for very long.
But when you make a change easier, it makes it easier to take that all-important first step. Once you take that first step, you have a bit of forward momentum. And it’s much easier to be consistent and stick with something for a long time.
Let’s take an example: I used to drink coffee with lots of added sugar. I used to think there was nothing wrong with that, but eventually I realized I was making an excuse for putting crap in my body. So I started by putting half a teaspoon less in my coffee. At first, it was slightly less good. But after a few days, it taste exactly like normal, like what I was used to. And then I took out another half a teaspoon, and it was slightly less good for a while, and then after a while it was exactly what I was used to.
Our minds tend to adjust over time. That’s my change process — I gradually adjust what’s normal to me. Eventually I didn’t need any sugar in my coffee, and it was just as good for me, I didn’t have all that crap, and I enjoyed it the same.
You can do this with anything — exercise, meditation, procrastination. Gradually adjust what feels like normal to you.
Here’s the process:
- Start small. What’s the smallest increment you can do? Do this for at least 3 days, preferably 4-5.
- Get started. Starting the change each day is the most important thing. Want to run? Just get out the door. Want to meditate? Just get on the cushion.
- Enjoy the change. Don’t look at this as a sacrifice. It’s fun, it’s learning, it’s a challenge.
- Stick to the change. Notice your urge to quit. Don’t act on it. Keep going.
- Adjust again. When the change becomes normal, make another small adjustment.
This is the process of creating a new normal. It’s beautiful and simple.
The Habit Course
If you want help changing habits, I created a self-study course with Katie Tallo and Barrie Davenport called The Habit Course. We now have a $97 version that’s more affordable than ever, so feel free to check it out.