The Power of Small Changes – introducing behavioural change for better habits

In the excellent book,”Atomic Habits“, author James Clear emphasises the impact of small, incremental changes. Clear argues that making tiny improvements on a daily basis can lead to significant results over time. This principle applies perfectly to busy dads who might not have large chunks of time to dedicate to massive changes.

By focusing on small, manageable shifts in daily routines, we can gradually transform their lives without feeling overwhelmed.

The Four Laws of Behavior Change

Clear outlines four fundamental laws for creating good habits and breaking bad ones:

  1. Make It Obvious: Design your environment to make good habits more visible and accessible. For instance, placing your running shoes next to the bed makes it more likely that you’ll go for a jog in the morning.
  2. Make It Attractive: Bundle a habit you need to do with one you want to do. If you want to listen to your favourite podcast, do it while exercising or doing household chores.
  3. Make It Easy: Reduce the friction associated with good habits. Preparing your workout clothes the night before reduces barriers to exercising in the morning.
  4. Make It Satisfying: Immediate rewards can make a habit feel more worthwhile. Treat yourself to a nice breakfast after a morning workout, for example.

The Role of Identity in Habits

One of the most powerful concepts in Atomic Habits is the idea of building identity-based habits. According to Clear, the most effective way to change your habits is to change your perception of who you are.

For example, instead of just trying to exercise, see yourself as someone who is fit and active. This shift in identity can significantly impact your approach to habits and routines.

Why Are Habits Good?

  1. Consistency and Efficiency: Habits automate our behaviours, freeing up mental resources for other tasks. This consistency can lead to efficiency in our daily routines.
  2. Long-term Improvement: As Clear states, habits compound over time. The effects of daily habits multiply as you repeat them, leading to significant long-term improvements.
  3. Stress Reduction: When good habits are in place, there’s less decision-making involved in daily life, which can reduce stress and decision fatigue.
  4. Goal Achievement: Good habits are the building blocks of achieving broader goals. They provide the daily actions that lead to the accomplishment of bigger objectives.

 

By understanding and applying the principles from Atomic Habits, busy dads can start implementing small changes that have a big impact over time. Establishing fresh, positive habits can be the key to breaking out of monotony and leading a more fulfilling and balanced life.

Consistency and Patience in Habit Formation

  1. Time Frame for Habit Formation: Contrary to the popular belief that it takes 21 days to form a habit, research suggests that the timeline can vary significantly depending on the person and the habit. A study by Phillippa Lally and her colleagues at University College London found that on average, it takes about 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic. However, this can range anywhere from 18 to 254 days. This wide range underscores the importance of patience and understanding that habit formation is a personal journey.
  2. The Role of Consistency: Consistency is key in habit formation. Engaging in a behaviour regularly, even in small ways, helps to solidify it as a habit. The brain starts to create neural pathways that make the behaviour more automatic over time.

Missing a day or two isn’t a deal-breaker, but the more consistent the behaviour, the stronger and more ingrained the habit becomes.

  1. Building a Habit Gradually: Starting with small, manageable actions can make the process less daunting and more sustainable. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, start by running short distances and gradually increase your mileage. This gradual increase helps in building endurance and makes the habit stick without overwhelming you.

The Risks of the "Crash Diet" Approach to Habits

  1. Unsustainability: Just like crash diets, trying to adopt a new habit quickly and intensely is often unsustainable. Drastic changes are hard to maintain and can lead to burnout or a sense of failure if you can’t keep up.
  2. Lack of Long-term Change: Quick fixes usually don’t address underlying behaviours or mindsets. Long-term change requires understanding the reasons behind your habits and gradually shifting your behaviour and mindset.
  3. Risk of Discouragement: When the crash approach inevitably becomes overwhelming or results don’t come as quickly as hoped, it can lead to discouragement and abandonment of the habit altogether.
  4. Neglecting the Learning Process: Part of habit formation is learning what works best for you and adjusting your approach. The crash diet approach often skips this learning process, making it harder to find sustainable, effective strategies for habit formation.

Conclusion

Building new habits is more akin to running a marathon than a sprint. It requires consistent effort, patience, and understanding that progress might be slow. Recognizing that habits form over time and that small, consistent steps are more effective than drastic overhauls is key to successful and sustainable habit formation. This approach not only fosters more enduring habits but also encourages a healthier and more forgiving mindset towards personal growth and change.

Supporting Men & Dads in the workplace

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Supporting Men & Dads in the workplace

Download our free guide to help employers create a more inclusive and supportive work environment for men and dads.