Understanding the learning curve of a habit makes them a lot easier to build.
When you first try to build a new habit, it’s usually difficult. You’re doing something new. Your environment isn’t set up for you to succeed. This means you’re going to miss more than you hit.
But, if you stick with it, after a while, you start to notice things you can change that will make it easier. A hack here, a tweak there. This usually gets you to at least 50% consistency – which starts to make you feel OK about it all.
If you continue to stick with it (noticing a theme here?), you’ll notice that you stumble into one or two changes that make ALL the difference. They literally jump you straight to 70-80% consistency. From here, you can see the finishing line. You usually need just another couple of months to achieve 80%+ consistency with ease.
Let me give you a few examples:
When I first set myself a goal of eating at least 120 grams of protein, it seemed almost impossible.
The first thing I realised was that I needed an easy way to track it. Welcome, myfitnesspal. I quickly saw that I was eating about 50 – 75 grams a day – and even that felt tough. It took me a while to realise that because I do intermittent fasting, I had to make my first meal (lunch) really count. If I didn’t get enough protein in that meal, the rest of the day became an almost impossible hill to climb. So, lunch became meat, nuts and veggies, which netted me about 50 – 60 grams of protein.
But, it was still hit and miss getting to 120 grams of protein with just an evening meal to follow. I realised I needed to get an afternoon snack in to bridge the gap. Through some trial and error, I ended up adding in some high protein greek yoghurt and a protein shake mid-afternoon. This gives me 65 grams of protein, which means I’m now heading into dinner with 120 grams of protein in the bank. Dinner then usually gives me between 30 and 60 grams of protein, depending on what it is (I’m way more flexible given it’s a family meal).
Fast forward to today, and I’m on track this month to hit 80%+ consistency for 120 grams of protein per day. And you know what? It’s EASY. I’ve gone from almost impossible to easy in two months. I now have to really do something unusual to fall below it.
Here’s another example. When I first set my sleep goal of 6.5 hours, it was super tough. I managed it about 50% of the time. But, as I continued to focus on it, I realised a few things that needed to change to jump me to 80%.
The biggest thing I noticed was the math needed to ensure 6.5 hours. It sounds stupid, because it’s so obvious. But, I needed to start to actually think about what it took to get 6.5 hours sleep. When I would wake up. When I would head to bed. And importantly, the fact that you tend to lose about an hour each night falling asleep and waking in the night. This led to me becoming more flexible on waking early every morning. Now, when I have a morning where I have to wake early, I think ahead and be sure to get to bed early enough to still hit 6.5 hours.
Nowadays, the only time I don’t hit 6.5 hours sleep is when I have a commitment in the evening, combined with a lack of flexibility on what time I can wake. I literally can’t make the math work. Or, something rare like I’m sick, or my daughter is going through a rough time sleeping. And that’s usually less than 20% of the time.
So, now it feels easy to hit 80% consistency. My average sleep is now over seven hours. It’s gone from super tough to easy in four months.
As you can see, it’s not exactly rocket science. Most people simply give up early in the process – when it’s difficult and you’re not seeing many results. But, that’s just the first part of the process. You need to manage your expectations and be easy on yourself. You need to have some patience. If you can push through the early tough stage, you give yourself the chance to learn what it takes to be consistent. And from there, it gets exponentially easier.
Some habits can take 30 – 60 days. You start at over 50% and it becomes pretty obvious what you need to do to reach 80%+ consistency. Other habits can take six months and are a much more difficult journey. But the learning curve is usually similar. If you can have some awareness of it, it’ll help you stay the course and be more successful in establishing new habits.
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