Simple Shifts That Stick… and Will Change Your Life

At this time every year I set my intentions for what I am going after in the new year.  A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about documenting your stop, start, keep behaviors.  Another year I wrote about a vision board.  These, of course, are still viable options, but lately I have been really zeroing in on small shifts in habits.  So much of the work we do with clients doesn’t have to do with monumental changes such as becoming more strategic or being really good at business development.  I tell clients all the time…if you move the needle just two degrees it will transform your leadership.  Taking on big, vague initiatives is a recipe for disaster.

Our calling card as successful consultants is that we not only understand what needs to change, but we also encourage implementation and hold individuals accountable to those changes.  However, we can push all we want, but If a person doesn’t have the self-awareness AND motivation to change then they won’t change.  As the old saying goes “You can lead a horse to water…”. Motivation is key – I never ask “What do you think needs to change?” Instead I ask, “What are you committed to change?”  Slight tweak…big difference.

Being committed to something is the magic mojo for change.  Typically, when people change habits it’s because staying status quo is not sustainable.  Maybe it is being committed to losing weight due to health concerns or maybe it is becoming more collaborative because a 360 came back that indicated a leader was self-serving.  Whatever that change is, the pain point is such that they are committed to getting better.  Understanding how habits work, keeping it simple, and pairing prompts with new behaviors is key to building habits that stick.

Understand How Habits Work
Habits are made up of three parts: trigger, routine, reward. A trigger is something that prompts a certain action or reaction. It could be an event, a feeling, an object, etc. A routine is a series of actions or emotions. A reward is something that reinforces the routine.

Let’s look at a simple example:

  • Your alarm clock goes off (trigger).
  • You hit snooze (routine).
  • You get ten extra, awesome minutes of sleep (reward).
This loop of trigger, routine, reward happens constantly for you in your daily life. When you uncover the loops, you see how undesirable interactions are rewarded or reinforced — by you and others.

Today I am going to give you a couple of tricks you can use to successfully implement some changes in 2020.

Simplicity Changes Behavior
Once you have identified a change that you want to make you will want to take a Starter Step.  A starter step is somewhat of a mental jujitsu – it has a surprising impact for such a small move because the momentum it creates often propels you to the next steps with less friction.  For example, if the habit you are committed to is walking three miles to start your day…a simple Starter Step is to put on your tennis shoes in the morning and step outside.  You can even tell yourself – I don’t have to walk; I just need to put on my tennis shoes and step outside.  Usually the result is that you will take a quick stroll around the block and it will seem so easy since you kept it simple.

Sometimes there are things in our lives that aren’t even habits we are trying to change, but simple actions we are procrastinating on.  I am definitely guilty of this.  I have been putting off getting a mammogram.  It’s not difficult to call and get it scheduled, right?  It seems silly to even admit it.  But I came up with a Starter Step.  I put the phone number on a pink sticky note and placed it on my To Do list.  I told myself that is all I had to do…magical way to hack my brain!  Once I did this, it was an easy next step to just call.  I scheduled it for this last week – walked in and was out in 20-minutes – and had a great discussion with the technician about a restaurant we both love from her hometown in Hartford, Connecticut!

Think about how many of these tiny to-dos that you don’t want to do are clogging your brain every day.  It can get mentally exhausting.  Taking the first step, no matter how small, can generate a sense of momentum that our brains love.  Completing tasks gives us a boost of confidence and this increases our motivation to do the entire behavior.

Prompts Are the Invisible Drivers of Our Lives
We experience prompts every day and aren’t even aware of them.  More often than not, we simply act.  The stoplight turns green, you hit the gas.  You feel a few drops of rain, you open your umbrella.  Your phone pings, you pick it up to read the text.  No behavior happens without a prompt.

So, the first thing you have to do to ensure change is to identify Your Anchor.  Your Anchor must be something that happens reliably in your life.  Many of us live very scheduled lives that a filled with reliable routines.  Research indicates that people typically have the most routines in the morning.  This makes morning one of the best times for cultivating new habits.  A key to Your Anchor is that as you do the behavior, you are linking that behavior followed by the new habit.  It has to follow, not proceed Your Anchor.  For example, when adding the habit of flossing…after I brush my teeth (Prompt), I will floss one tooth (Starter Step)…really, like I’m not going to floss the rest?  Or when adding the habit of being more accessible to direct reports, when I enter the office in the morning (Prompt), I will leave my door open (Starter Step) instead of going into my office and shutting the door.  I am sure to talk to someone along the way or welcome them in if they pop their head in!

There are two things to remember here.  First, the pairing has to make sense.  Don’t pair brushing your teeth with taking out the trash.  Don’t pair coming into the office with calling your mom.  Secondly, every time you achieve the behavior celebrate!  You can celebrate by pumping your fist, saying something nice to yourself, or document with a smiley face on your calendar.  Whatever it is that creates a sense of satisfaction and acknowledgement for you.

The reflections and ideas here are based on my own experiences, but also a great book by Dr. BJ Fogg, “Tiny Habits” that is a guide for change.  If you want some great examples of Tiny Habits you can incorporate into your own life, go to  He also has tons of other resources that might be of great help in your drive towards changing habits.  Have an amazing start to your New Decade!