Habits are Destiny
by James Lange, CPA/Attorney
“The easier a behavior is to do, the more likely the behavior will become habit…Take a behavior you want, make it tiny, find where it fits naturally in your life, and nurture its growth.”
From Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything by B. J. Fogg
The habits that we create and stick with as well as the behaviors that don’t become part of our regular routines all influence the broad trajectory of our lives.
Adopting new habits or changing existing habits can help us achieve transformative goals. Changing our habits can help us change our destiny.
I think most people understand the interplay between habits, behavior, and outcomes. We know, for instance, that when we want to lose weight, de-stress, sleep better, or be more productive, changing our habits is essential. But it’s one thing to understand which bad habits we want to break and which good habits we want to incorporate and another thing to successfully create and sustain those desired behavioral changes—there can be a painful gap between what we want and what we actually do.
How “Autopilot” Helps with Sustaining Habits You Want to Embrace
As many of you know, I’ve spent the last few decades trying to develop and maintain habits that improve my overall health and fitness…with varying degrees of success.
On the one hand, I have successfully cut sugar, dairy, and gluten from my diet.
On the other hand, maintaining a consistent weight (like so many of us) eludes me. In no small part because I’ve struggled to break my snacking habit. If only my gluten, dairy, and sugar-free “ice cream” could be calorie-free too!
So, why the discrepancy in my success rates? Why is it that some habits are easier to maintain than others? Is there some factor working to stack the deck in favor of my success when it comes to “kicking” my sugar/gluten/dairy habit that isn’t in play when it comes to limiting snacks?
When my wife, Cindy, and I set out to transform our diets, the first thing we did was to hire Lauri Lang (no relation), a nutritionist who is available to provide advice to additional clients (https://LauriLang.com). Lauri, in concert with our functional medicine doctor, developed individualized dietary plans for me, Cindy, and our daughter, Erica. Lauri and her assistant prepare most of our meals (sorry, neither are available for more shopping or cooking).
All we must do to eat a good, healthy meal that meets all of our dietary restrictions is open the fridge. I recognize how helpful it is for me to have this aspect of eating on autopilot. We don’t need to expend extra energy—physical or mental—to maintain our good habits.
In fact, I’ve been proselytizing about the benefits of putting any number of tasks on autopilot for so long. When I was struggling to maintain a weekly workout regimen, I hired an in-home personal trainer.
I often describe using the combination of our comprehensive tax, investment, retirement, and estate planning services as “putting your financial success on autopilot.”
Looking back, I can see that building in an autopilot function helps me cement the behavioral changes I want to encourage. And vice-versa. Habits I have broken also seem to have a common feature—they required extra energy that was difficult for me to find or harness.
Research Seems to Support the Autopilot Function
A substantial body of behavioral science research indicates that new behaviors that strain time, money, physical capacity, or mental energy, or that do not fit into a person’s pre-existing routine without requiring many adjustments, are far less likely to successfully become habits.
B.J. Fogg, a Stanford behavioral scientist, in his book, Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything, identifies each of these factors (time, money, physical effort, mental effort, and routine) as a link in the “Ability Chain.” And the chain “is only as strong as its weakest link.” In my case, by reducing the amount of energy I need to expend to feed myself healthfully, I strengthened the ability chain for my dietary regimen and increased the likelihood that my efforts would succeed over the long term.
Unfortunately, the list of habits I need to change is still a bit long!
Let me propose some self-reflection. Think about a habit you want to change or adopt. Is one of the factors on the ability chain imposing obstacles? Consider reading Tiny Habits … by B. J. Fogg and change your destiny.
If you would like a free copy of Jim’s book, The IRA and Retirement Plan Owner’s Guide to Beating the New Death Tax, simply call Edie Britton at 412-521-2732.