Adjusting to change – are you a bobber or do you have your oars at the ready?
As a global community, we’ve had to make some rapid adjustments in a short period of time. Many of us have had to pivot our work situations and start working from home. Add to this the need to homeschool, and suddenly the finely tuned way we used to go about our day has changed completely! The routine rug has been pulled out from underneath us and we are essentially bobbing about in a new ocean, trying to find the oars for the life raft.
What we are looking at here is the need to re-establish a new routine, a new homing ground, a new ‘normal’. So, how do we go about creating a new routine, in a timely manner, without feeling completely overwhelmed by change? How do we adjust, pivot and settle again? Because the truth is, we will need to pivot again and again and again. That is the truth of life, COVID or no COVID.
Setting new goals may not be the answer.
We have been taught that to achieve what we want in life; we need to set goals. So, at a time when you need to abruptly adjust your life, you may find yourself setting new goals. One example is if you suddenly have more time on your hands, you may be thinking ‘yes! now I can lose 20kg in the next three months’.
I can definitely put my hand up for attempting goal setting at this time. But frustratingly, it hasn’t proven beneficial. Searching for strategies that would work, I stumbled across James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. A behavioural change specialist, Mr Clear suggests that when focusing on goals, we are in fact focusing on the wrong thing.
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems”.
Goals are the results you want to achieve. However, systems are the processes that leads you to those results. As Clear states, “goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are the best for making progress”. It is GREAT to have goals; however, they can be pie in the sky if you do not change the behavior behind it. So if your goal is losing 20kg in the next three months, how are you going to go about losing weight? What are your systems for that change? Because despite your goal to lose weight, if your system is to have chocolate and watch Netflix every evening, you will likely be unsuccessful. Your goal and your systems don’t match.
Goals and systems may not be deep enough.
In Clear’s layered model of behavioural change, goal setting forms layer one, the superficial layer concerned with the outcome. I refer to this as the WHAT layer. The second layer is concerned with systems and procedures. The HOW layer. The third and deepest layer of behavioural change is concerned with changing your identity. It is the WHO layer. Changing your identity is like the depths of the ocean to pie-in-the-sky goal setting. This is where you address your beliefs, your self-image, your judgement about yourself and others.
For life changes and habits to take hold, they must become part of who you are. The goal is to lose weight, but the identity is that you are a fit and athletic person. The goal may be to run a marathon, but the identity is to be a runner. Here’s the challenge though: there is often misalignment between what we want deep down and who we believe we are. Often our self-image gets in the way of being able to make real change.
WHO? HOW? WHAT? The reversal of layers
Many of us will focus on level one of behavioural change (goal setting) and only dip our toes into level 3. Perhaps we have the priorities wrong? Perhaps to pivot, the best strategy is to flip these layers on the head and identify WHO we want to become and then ask ourselves do our beliefs, our self-talk, and our systems align with this?
If we follow the strategy of layer reversal then, after working with identity, we need to take stock of the HOW (i.e. our habits and systems). To do this, I would suggest taking a habit inventory. For example, take note of how you go about our day? Does this fit your new identity?
Let us look at the weight loss example again:
WHO = “I am a fit and healthy person”. HOW = my habits/systems, which may be:
To wake up when everyone in the house is up, eat coco pops with full cream milk, think about exercising but check out social media for an hour, stay in my pyjamas while I sort out emails, decide I don’t have time to exercise now because I have to get cracking with work… etc, etc. You can see from this example, that these habits are not congruent with the identity of a “healthy and fit person”.
Continuing with HOW, my favourite strategy to build new habits is habit stacking. It is an easier way to introduce new habits compared to committing to a specific time and place. For example, with the identity of being fit and healthy, I will stack these habits into my already established routine:
5:30am – wake up -> drink a glass of water -> do 10 push ups, sit ups, squats, lunges and box jumps -> make a coffee and eat a nutritious breakfast.
You can see how the health and fitness habits of drinking water and exercise have been stacked into the habits of waking up and having breakfast. It removes the pressure of adherence to specific times and subsequent avoidance behaviours.
Add some neon signs
Now that you have the identity (WHO), have dealt with underlying beliefs, have systems in place that fit who you want to become (HOW), add the WHAT outcome (i.e the goal). Now if you set the goal of losing 20 kg in the next three months, you have the actual infrastructure in place.
To round this all off, though, I would suggest one more thing. Support yourself with big, identifiable, environmental cues, almost like a bright neon sign flashing in your house. Cues are the trigger for habits. If you want to be “fit and athletic”, don’t have your running shoes in the back of your closet. Have your exercise clothes and trainers ready to go at the front door. Help yourself out by making your environment work for you.
Working through systemic changes using these strategies has helped me find my oars. I now have a process in place to pivot, adjust and re-settle in a more timely manner. This approach to change works well for me, and I hope that it works for you as well. To give you a little bit more help, I have created online support systems such as telehealth appointments, Facebook live health education and pop-up exercise classes. These services have been created to help you with your environmental cues and habit stacking. If you would like to become part of this online ENITOR community, simply send me an email at email@example.com Let us find your oars so you can row yourself to shore.
This blog may be the result of COVID-19, but the strategies it highlights should help you pivot again and again to the tale of life. Rather than bobbing though your life, you can have your oars at the ready xx