Switching Habits

Switching Habits

I have a habit of starting my day at 4 am. To create an insane habit like this one,The Heath Brothers explain a wildly helpful strategy in "Switch."

I have a habit of starting my day at 4 am. It took weeks to switch from a night person to an early riser, and it wasn't easy, but I succeeded. Not because I need to get up at that hour, but because I need to get up at that hour. Am I a crazy person? Am I an enthusiast? It’s a fine line some mornings, to be honest, but it’s a habit that I’ve enjoyed for years. At first, it was difficult and required a lot of coffee. Then it became something I looked forward to every day. I fell out of practice after the birth of my first child, worked hard to get back in the groove, then fell out again after the birth of my second child. I’m back in the groove now, but it’s harder to pop out of bed these days than it used to be. And I drink a lot more coffee. Despite the lack of sleep and the ever-increasing to-do list around the house, I’m up at 4 am-ish most mornings to take advantage of the one time everyone else is asleep. I’m free to write during that time. Free to be creative. Most of all, I’m free to take time to unwind and have fun. For me, creating a habit like this was difficult. Luckily, through my other hobby of reading, I’ve come across knowledge that will make creating habits like this easier. In 2010, Chip and Dan Heath followed up their bestselling Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, with Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Filled with wit and stories that resonate, the Heath Brothers lay out a strategy to better facilitate change in life. This change can be personal, professional, or just to help with a minor issue in life. Though I didn’t read Switch before I started my four am wake-up routine, I look back and see how the concepts played into my efforts.

The Switch Framework

Drawing on the work of psychologist Jonathan Haidt, the Heath Brothers use his analogy of an elephant and a rider. Our self-control is a rider on top of an elephant, and the elephant is our emotions. The problem here is obvious; a person may be able to direct the elephant, but only if the elephant is okay with the direction. And that little rider is helpless when the elephant decides it wants to travel a different path. How does this imagery help us to create better habits in our lives and work?

Direct the Rider

The first step the Heath Brothers breakdown is to give that rider a direction. Our self-control can be directed towards a goal. When that direction is simple and easy to understand, the rider has an easier time focusing on reaching the goal itself. They break this down further into three parts, with no part being more important the others. Rather, they’re all part of a strategy.

Follow the Bright Spots

What’s worked? What do you enjoy? What makes you miss a meal? For me, that was writing. At first, it was a coping mechanism, like daily journaling. I also liked the sound of the keyboard clicking. Therefore, I worked to develop that to see where it went…which turned out to be writing.

Script the Critical Moves

Set up a routine, or a mental checklist of what to do at certain times. To make writing work for me, I set my alarm for 4 am, as well as making sure the coffee pot was set to turn on at that time as well. I also had cereal ready.

Point the Destination

My wife had gotten tired of me “critiquing” movies and TV shows. She got me a book on creative writing and told me to go write my own. This became my destination- to complete a book then get it published.

Motivate the Elephant

For this metaphor, the elephant is very given to emotions. This is why it’s important to tap into a feeling, a memory, or some emotional connection that speaks on a very basic level. Once the elephant is motivated, and that motivation ties in with the goal, the rider will have an easier time directing the entire endeavor

Find the Feeling

Underneath all the writing and the storytelling, I’ll admit, I liked the attention of a good story. My grandfather even said that I should go into writing because I was a good storyteller. It took me a few years to listen to him, but eventually, I did. Hearing stories from my grandfather, and other relatives, was always an enjoyable experience. In my family, there are some amazing, and hilarious, storytellers. Sadly, there are also some not-so-good ones, as the storytelling gene is recessive. To share stories and to hear stories has always been something that I enjoyed and looked forward to. There was the feeling.

Shrink the Change

When a task is large, getting discouraged comes naturally. If possible, break down the task into smaller pieces to make it easier. For writing, it’s as simple as setting daily wordcounts to reach, or a number of pages to complete. I would sit down and make myself write for five minutes straight without stopping. This warm-up exercise cleared out the cobwebs and allowed my creative side to breathe. Writing after that became much easier.

Grow Your People

By working with those around you, you create a support network, a safety net, or accountability around you to help complete the task at hand. The first writer I reached out to, Karen Traviss, was very supportive and answered my questions. Thanks to this reaction, I was emboldened to keep writing and reach out to other authors and writers.

Shape the Path

The last piece of the strategy is to create a way to reach your intended goal. It would be nice to have a map written up with all the steps to take, how to take them, and at what time. In life, unfortunately, that never happens.

Tweak the Environment

When the environment you find yourself in is more conducive to where you want to go, your self-control is strengthened. To become a better writer, you must not only write, you must also read. It doesn’t matter what you read so long as it’s a constant thing. I accomplished this through audiobooks, as well as regular trips to Barnes & Noble. Listening to instrumental music also helped the words to flow.

Build Habits

Habits can make or break change. When you have a habit of vegging out in front of the TV at the end of the day, it’s going to get harder to change that the longer you do it. By getting up at four am every day I eventually got to the point that I could wake up without an alarm. While this was cool, I kept the alarm on as I didn’t want to risk sleeping in and missing my writing time. Habits also make self-control simpler as you’ve engineered your brain to react in a certain way.

Rally the Herd

Working with other writers, and staying in touch with them, helped to keep me going when the writing was horrible. They would offer advice on what needed improvement, but most importantly, they kept telling me I was good at it. If they were lying about that then the jokes on them because now I’m doing this for a living.   This framework is helpful when it comes to implementing something new into your life, no matter what part it is. The Switch Framework isn’t the final word on change, however, as the Heath Brothers have a list of suggested reading in Switch to further learn about identifying and implementing change. Visit their website to find more resources, as well as purchase other books written by the Heath Brothers. Be sure to stream it to your favorite devices as an eBook or an audiobook. You can do this by looking into the best Spectrum cable and internet deals. Before you know it, you’ll be a crazy person who gets up at four am to fulfill your passion too!