Nashville received some of the worst ice it has seen in years last night. I stood in the frigid, below zero temperatures at 5am this morning, scraping an inch of ice from my windshield. As I was wondering if this was commitment, or if I should be committed, I started to think about habits. What is it that motivates me, regardless of the time, the weather and the discomfort to be up at 5am, defrosting my car just to get to the gym. I have developed a habit, an unwavering behavior that puts exercise front and center in my day. How can we teach and motivate others to find this level of passion?

We’ve all been there. You have a deep rooted behavior that has become detrimental to your success, your health, maybe even your personal relationships. It needs to change, but change is hard. Sometimes it even seems impossible. The anxiety of tossing that last pack of cigarettes out cold turkey, the dread that comes with starting yet another weight loss plan, or the chaos of uprooting another failing relationship in hopes of a “fresh start” is often just so daunting you wonder if it is even worth it.

How is it that some people can find the willpower, the intrinsic (internal) motivation to turn a negative behavior pattern into a positive habit? Yet so many others can try dozens of times and seem more and more quickly to fall back into old patterns with each subsequent attempt. It is surely not that some people have a habit building gene, or were let onto some secret about breaking bad habits, or developing new ones. Much more simply, they have tapped into personal willpower, the motivation to change. No new habit is formed without challenge and/or adversity, and no doubt they, too, were faced with daily opportunities to throw in the towel. However, in order to change a behavior, and create a new habit, it takes replication, determination, incremental milestones and most importantly a belief that you have the resources necessary to succeed.

While some may argue that self-esteem is the single most important characteristic in predicting habit formation or positive behavior change, there is a little more to it than that. Sure, we have to believe in our ability to succeed, but before that we have to be confident that we want to change! Are we personally…intrinsically motivated to carry out the task? If we don’t truly want to change our dysfunctional behaviors, but rather are doing it for some extrinsic purpose (the approval of others, a six pack, social status, a relationship, a job requirement), then you can bet these temporary rewards, once they are gone so too will be your motivation to stick with your new found behavior. Will power, a true, deep-rooted personal commitment is the number one predictor of behavior change, and eventually habit formation.

  • What is it that YOU want to change?
  • Why do you want to change it, and is this a temporary desire or a long term intrinsic motivator?
  • Do you have the resources to carry out your behavior change plan? If not, what are you lacking and how can you get the tools you need to be successful?
  • Who is your support network and what are they bringing to the partnership?

Once you have answered each of the above (without bullshitting yourself), do some soul searching. Think about the potential obstacles and have an action plan for dealing with these setbacks.

For example, if you are trying to quit drinking and you know that on Friday night your friends are going to invite you to Happy Hour, how are you going to respond? If you decide to go, and challenge your resistance, how will you deal with one or all of them giving you shit for drinking a diet soda?

Think through these scenarios from start to finish. Role play and build up some ammunition as to how you can handle these situations comfortably. Most importantly, remain confident in your ability to withstand the temptations and triggers.

Don’t be happy with creating temporary change patterns. Arm yourself with the tools you need to make those patterns into new habits.