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Why you should only work on one habit at a time

I want to change everything

We often often fall in to bad habits over time without really realizing it. Then one day you get a wake up call. Maybe you stepped on the scales and realized you have gained 20 pounds. Maybe you went to lift up your child and discovered your muscles had wasted away. Maybe you had to go to the ER for chest pains. Once you have this realization the natural desire is to want to fix everything straight away.

Implementation intentions

An implementation intention is a tool introduced by Peter Gollwitzer in the late 90’s. The idea is that you write an “when… then…” plan to help develop a habit. For example writing down “when I finish work I will go to the gym.” There have been many studies in to implementation intentions and they have found two things. Firstly people who write down their “when… then…” implementation intention are 2 to 3 times more likely to stick to the habit that those that don’t. This is huge in an of itself. The research has also shown that implementation intentions only work when you do one at a time.

Habits are hard

Habits are hard. Actually, that’s not true, once formed habits are easy – you just do them automatically. Creating habits is hard. It takes a lot of effort. Studies have shown that we only have a finite amount of willpower. Once its used up for the day its gone. Creating habits takes willpower. You want to be sure you are using that finite resource for the most important things. If you want to be successful in in creating habits devote your willpower to just one habit.

Good news

The good news is thanks to the ripple effect one small habit will get bigger and create more habits. So, focus on creating just one of your habits at a time and over time the others will naturally happen.