How to (Finally) Follow Through on Better Habits

In my defense, I was tired. It had been a long day involving travel and time zone changes. But that’s the point really. When aren’t we tired? Or stressed? Or over-scheduled and busy?

cookieesSo when the hotel offered me a chocolate chip cookie, I took it. And then another. It felt good. Soothing. I relaxed a bit. And then I ate dinner late and had a big dessert. I went to bed uncomfortably full and sugared up, regretting those choices.

This is not just a food thing and I know it’s not just me.

Do you ever pick up your phone in a moment of boredom, only to find yourself still unintentionally immersed in your screen–reading newsfeeds, Facebook, whatever–an hour later?

Do you ever go into a meeting with the intention to listen more than speak and find yourself speaking more than listening? Or maybe you intend to speak and find yourself sitting quietly the whole time?

Do you intend to delegate but end up doing the work yourself? Intend to relax but end up working? Intend to be strategic but end up in the weeds?

The Key to Follow Through

What I have discovered in my own struggles with these things – and the struggles of my coaching clients – is that intentions are not enough. Neither is willpower, which gets exhausted, just like we all do.

In all my experimentation I have found one thing that does work: Rules.

Decide, specifically, how you want to act and then create a rule around it. When the rule is simple, clear, specific, and measurable, it reduces the need for discipline and willpower because you take in-the-moment decision making out of the equation. If you set a rule not to even look at the dessert menu, then you won’t have to use willpower to resist all those delicious looking desserts.

Here are some examples of rules for the above situations:

  • No processed sugar at all, ever. If that feels too extreme, then no processed sugar on travel days or after 6 pm, or on weekdays.
  • Set screen time like you would for children, allowing yourself an hour each day (or whatever rule you want to set for yourself) and cut it off at a certain time (say, 8 pm).
  • In the next meeting, allow yourself to speak only three times over the hour and spend the rest of the time listening. Or, if you need to speak up more, decide that you will speak up at least three times over the hour.
  • Find one thing a day to delegate. Stop working and put your technology in a different room by 8 pm. Cordon off one hour each day, say 2 to 3 pm, where you don’t do anything administrative or transactional, but instead think big picture strategically about your business.

At the end of each day, look back and measure your success against these very clear, specific, measurable rules. They work because they are NOT ambiguous, loose, or subject to how you’re feeling in the moment. You create a simple rule and then you simply follow it.

The Rules You Need

Think for a moment about habits you want to change. Or new habits you want to pick up. Ways of acting that would be better for you, for your team, and for your business.

rules-whiteboardNow set a rule.

The key to rules is to make them when you are in a thoughtful, intentional, and strategic state of mind. Your rules will represent your best self–the way you want to be. You should set rules that you know will make you happy in the long run, even if it means you may not be satisfied in a particular moment. Your rules should help you resist temptations to act in ways that you know are not in your best interests.

What makes rules so effective is that they are black and white. You may not always adhere to them, but, when you look back at the end of the day, you’ll know either way. And then you can plan the next day more clearly.

Then, when you arrive at your hotel and they offer you a chocolate chip cookie, it will be much easier to say no or reach for the apple instead.

Originally posted on Inc.com



Peter Bregman

Peter Bregman

Peter Bregman helps CEOs and their leadership teams break down silos and tackle their most important priorities together. He teaches courageous leadership in an annual Leadership Week. He is the author, most recently, of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, a Wall Street Journal best seller, winner of the Gold Medal from the Axiom Business Book awards, named the best business book of the year on NPR, and selected by Publisher's Weekly and the New York Post as a top 10 business book. He is also the author of Point B: A Short Guide to Leading a Big Change and co-author of five other books. Featured on PBS, ABC and CNN, Peter is a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Forbes, National Public Radio (NPR), Psychology Today, and CNN as well as a weekly commentator on Fox Business News. Get notified when he writes a new article.

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