This is a story of how I managed to change a habit that has had an essential impact on my success. It is based on my personal experiences. I hope that when you read this, you get some great ideas for the habits you want to acquire yourself.
Also, I must warn you. This post is over 2000 words long, so take your time to read it through. I still hope that you get valuable information about this post – even if it is this long :)
Year 2006 marked a big change in my life. I had lived pretty carelessly before and my lifestyle was very irregular. I was eating lots of junk food, I wasn’t working out and I had a very low self-esteem.
To be honest, the change process had already started in fall 2005, when I decided to join a local marathon school. The goal of the marathon school was to prepare the participants to run a full-distance marathon in 2006.
In 2006, months passed and my first marathon ever was about to happen on August 16th, 2006 by running Helsinki City Marathon. The preparation phase went well for the most parts, although at some point I had some issues with my right foot. Luckily this was just a temporary injury and I was able to recover for the race.
Eventually the race day came and of course I was nervous. You have to remember, that this was my first marathon ever and I still had overweight in my body (9 kilos = almost 20 pounds), which didn’t make my situation any better. And to make things worse, the temperature for the race wasn’t optimal for marathon running – it was 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Farenheit), which is just too hot for majority of runners.
The race itself was a very typical marathon race – easy in the beginning, but the real running started after the 30 kilometer (19 miles) mark, so that’s when the exhaustion started to kick in. No matter how painful the last kilometers/miles the race was, I pulled it through and crossed the finish line in time 5 hours, 22 minutes (my race number was 522, so go figure J).
Right after crossing the finish line, I didn’t feel anything special. I was just exhausted, my legs hurt and I could barely walk. But after I had a chance to go to sauna, take a shower and put dry, clean clothes on, I felt a sense of relief, joy and incredible boost in my self-confidence. Even if my legs hurt, I felt that I was flying above the ground – that good I felt.
That pleasant feeling lasted for days and I got congratulated by my parents, friends and colleagues. I felt good – at the same time I knew I wanted to have more of that good feeling, even if it meant lots of hard work and sometimes pain and exhaustion.
The seeds of a habit were planted
The feeling of success and joy acted like a seed that was planted in order to grow a habit out of it. All I needed to do now was to water and nurture that seed, so that it would grow big, strong and long-lasting.
I figured that in order to improve my results for the next race, I should make some adjustments to my lifestyle that would support my goals on this matter.
I had the motivation in place and that was born because of the success I had. All I had to do now was to have a consistent plan to follow, so that I would be able to reach my goals.
“The feeling of success and joy acted like a seed that was planted in order to grow a habit out of it.
Becoming an early riser
The big lifestyle change that I made at first was to wake up earlier. I knew that I wasn’t able to work out as much as I wanted, if I had to do all the exercising after work. Because of this, there was a practical reason to start waking up early. Waking up at 5 AM was a necessity, if I wanted to do two workouts in a day – one in the morning before hitting the office and the other one in the afternoon/evening.
At first when I woke up at 5 AM, I felt that I was doing something completely unnatural. Being awake at 5 AM in the morning and starting my day at that hour was so different from what I used to do earlier. It took some to time to adjust to it.
If it was weird to wake up so early, so it was with working out early in the morning. I knew that making running exercises at 5 AM, especially during the wintertime (it is very dark and sometimes very cold in that time of the year here in Finland) is a very rough way to start your day. I wanted to do some alternating exercises instead, like going to gym or taking a swim at a local swimming hall.
Those adjustments in my training program made it easier for me wake-up early, thus it enabled me to form a habit much better. If I have started doing things the hard way, it would have been more difficult for me to create the habit of early wake-ups.
What about self-discipline?
It has often been said, that you need self-discipline to form a new habit. I guess in some cases this is true – you need to force yourself to do things.
In my case, waking up at 5 AM would have been impossible without four things. First, the great experience of finishing a marathon was like a foundation for this habit to emerge. I wanted to feel more that feeling of success.
Second, I was already motivated because of my successful experience. I didn’t have to use any tricks to get out of the bed, even if it was at 5 AM in the morning. Sure, many times I felt tired when waking up (I went to bed late, but still woke up early), but at least when I was at the gym or took my first strokes at the swimming pool, that feeling of tiredness was gone.
Third, I had a consistent training schedule to follow, so that I knew what to do and when. This helped me to prepare mentally for early wake-ups.
Fourth, I started to prepare for the early wake-ups by packing my gear ready the evening before, so it was harder for me to cancel that training session if I had to unpack again. In addition, this would have led to a situation where I had to cancel my early wake-up too and I didn’t want this to happen.
I didn’t have to force myself to do this (early wake-ups) – I did this because I wanted to and I knew that it supported my other goals (getting better results in other marathons).
Sure, there were times when I slept in, but that was mainly because of being very tired and I knew that I had to rest to feel better.
How did I know I had formed a new habit?
In my situation I was able to tell that my habit was formed because I felt weird of not doing what I had taught myself. For example, waking up at 07.30 AM made me feel strange because I had already started to wake-up at 5 AM.
Another point that indicated I had formed a new habit was the sense of guilt. If I didn’t wake up early, I felt like I had betrayed myself. I knew I had goals and the reason for this new habit of mine was to get me closer to my goals (for example improving my marathon finish time).
This feeling of guilt was so strong, that I didn’t want to let myself down. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened too many times (since 2006 when I formed my habit). If it did, it fell under the exceptions category that I allowed myself to happen.
Ingredients for lasting habits
I have listed here the different characteristics of a successful habit (like the one I described earlier). In my opinion, these characteristics give a strong foundation for any habit to grow and form – not just waking up early.
- Positive experience
Is there possibility to have a positive experience that triggers your desire to create a new habit?
Try to have a positive experience that lays down the foundation of your new habit – as if you already had mastered the habit and felt how it feels.
For example, I described in this post, how the positive experience of finishing my first marathon lead me to grow a positive habit of waking up early.
Do you have the fuel to keep on going? Do you use positive or negative motivation to move you forward?
This is important – you need to have a strong motivation to change a habit of yours. If you are just trying to do it for fun, it is not going to last.
Motivation can grow of positive experience, but sometimes the reasons could be something different. For example, if you smoked regularly, you doctor could order for you to stop, because you could get ill permanently. In that situation there would be a negative motivator that makes you to change your habit and do the change.
Why do you want to create the habit in the first place? In what ways does it make your life better?
In my situation when becoming an early riser, I was able to work out, so that I could improve my sports results.
- Plan & Preparation
Do you feel that there is some preparation that makes it easier to form or follow your new habit? Do you need to prepare somehow?
I knew why I had to wake-up early, because of my training program and I prepared myself for early wake-ups by packing my stuff the night before.
Which one of these scenarios makes the habit more probable to stick: doing it consistently on certain days at certain time or doing it whenever you feel to, randomly?
If the execution of my new habit would have been irregular, I wouldn’t have it now.
The consistency was the key here – waking up at 5 AM every weekday.
When forming a new habit and a first setback comes, are you willing to hang on or quit?
Sometimes my new habit was tested. I didn’t feel like waking up, but at the same time I knew that I wasn’t able to succeed in my sports activities if I slept late.
I was tested at times, like if I was serious about my new habit, but I passed the tests and the habit lasted.
How do you feel when you can’t execute your new habit? Are you willing to acknowledge, that there are going to be exceptions at some point?
Whenever you form a habit, it is important to realize, that sometimes there are going to be exceptions to the rule. For example, I gave myself permission to sleep late, if I was feeling super tired. Exercising in a tired state is not good for you.
Do you have any incentives that reward you, if you stick in your habit?
Sometimes I rewarded myself for being disciplined in my habits. I would buy a new book, rent a movie or just buy something delicious to eat.
The reward system has its place, because it makes you to push forward with your habit. Sometimes you may have harder times of executing your habit, but a compelling reward will help you to keep your habit alive.
Do you keep the information about the habit on yourself or do you let anyone else know about it?
I was fortunate to have a strong motivation in place, which acted as my fuel for my habit. However, sometimes you may need to have an accountability partner, so that he/she will keep you in line with your habits.
In my case, I was accountable to myself, because I knew that if I didn’t wake-up early (and exercise) I would feel bad about myself. I didn’t want that to happen.
Here was the breakdown of one of my habits and how it was born. I have listed above the characteristics of a habit that I feel are important when you try to form a one.
I hope that this personal case study of mine sparkled you some ideas on how to form new habits. Once you form a new habit, nurture and “water it”, it stays alive and grows stronger.
Before I finish this post, I must give credit to certain people, who gave me ideas about writing this post.
Second credit goes to Alison at Pix2Brix, where she said, that I should mention about the self-discipline part, which was required to form this habit. Alison, I hope that this part was also addressed here :)
Please check out my video below – I have some additional insights to share with you related to habits.
“Did this post create any insights for you when it comes to habits? Are you planning of creating new habits soon? Please share this information on the comments area. If you liked this article, I would appreciate if you share it on Twitter, like it on Facebook or just vote it on various social bookmarking services.