The power of daily habits: the smallest change makes the biggest impact

By Marianne Renner: Leadership Coach, Speaker, Author

In doing some research for a coaching workshop on work-life balance, I came across an interesting statistic that states up to 80% of what we do every day is automatic. I started thinking about my day. I thought about my drive to work. I can’t remember the last time I read a street sign or put any thought into when I needed to make a right-hand turn. Using my phone is about as automatic as it gets, as evidenced by my frustration every time there’s a software update that moves around my icons.

So if up to 80% of our daily tasks are automatic, how can we use this to our benefit in achieving personal and professional growth and success? If we can incorporate more habits into our daily lives, our chances of success skyrocket, and here are 3 reasons why.

1. Maximize our Energy Resources

We’re wired for automation because of the overall energy it takes to mentally process the enormous amount of information coming at us each day. The amount of time we have in a day is finite. The amount of energy we have to expend in a day is finite. So the key is to maximize our activities with most efficient use of energy. Simply put: if we can develop habits, we use less energy to complete a task, which gives us energy left over to complete more tasks.

Think about anytime you have started a new job. The first few months are exhausting, aren’t they? Why? Because you have to process every small bit of information: where do I find a notebook, what’s the name of that person I just passed in the hallway, where’s the cafeteria, how do I request time off or schedule a meeting, what are the expectations of my boss? But over time, daily tasks become automatic, and you have more energy resources free to focus on projects, ideas and major accomplishments. And if you can break those projects and ideas into small repeated tasks, you can leverage even more energy.

The more habits we can create around reaching a goal, the more energy we have to move closer to the goal.

2. Small things add up over time.

Pretty much every conversation I have regarding goals focuses on the importance of daily habits to achieve measured success. If you want to lose 20 pounds, it will be the small, daily tasks that ultimately bring you to your goal. The thought of losing 20 pounds is daunting. But what if you could develop a daily habit of taking a 35-minute walk every morning? Just that one habit done every day for a year can result in losing 20 pounds. Trust me, I’ve done the math. Burning 200 calories every walk over 365 days adds up to 20 pounds!

Years ago as a competitive bodybuilder, I had to weigh, measure and count calories of everything I ate every day in order to achieve a specific level of body fat for a competition. At first it took discipline and willpower. But after doing this for 20 years, I can pretty much look at a plate and know how many calories are in the meal. To this day, I write down what I eat every day to monitor my calories. Writing down daily food intake has become such a habit that it involves no extra time or energy  for me. It’s just part of my routine life.

3) Sustaining results

Most of us can identify with getting excited about a project or idea, starting strong, then losing our way over time. Developing habits creates a built-in sustainment strategy for any important goal in life. No matter how much discipline and willpower we have, we always go into autopilot during times of stress or storms. Habits will carry us through when the storms come.

When we feel uncertain, tired, or overwhelmed, we retreat into our comfort areas. And habits are our comfort areas. So if I have a 20-year habit of cooking egg whites and vegetables for breakfast everyday, I will continue that habit no matter what. If work gets busy, the holidays are here, or I’m traveling more – no matter what, I will eat a healthy breakfast. To do otherwise is uncomfortable.

There is incredible power in creating small, daily habits.

With the new year around the corner, this is the perfect time to take a look at areas of your life you want to improve. Don’t try to tackle everything at once. Completing new tasks starts with discipline and willpower. It takes time to develop a habit. So start with one or two small changes that over time will help you reach your goals.

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