Change your life – become a ‘Habit Mechanic’

Tougher Minds Founder Dr Jon Finn explains it is possible for everyone to do better and feel better (in work and life), despite the huge challenges we currently face in our changing world.

He outlines why beneficial, positive progress is so hard when so much current “self-help” material is based on totally outdated, ineffective thinking.

And he explains how we can all improve our wellbeing, happiness, resilience and performance by becoming a ‘Habit Mechanic’ (a method supported by cutting-edge science.)

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Podcast Transcription

Hi, everyone’s Dr. Jon Finn here, welcome to another Tougher Minds podcast. I’m walking again, and I’m reflecting on the challenges that everyone’s facing right now in what has been very difficult, very testing, 12 to 13 month period. And one of the things we’ve been thinking about a lot recently…….you may have heard a recent podcast I did talking about traditional leadership is dead. And what we now need to do to help others to be at their best has really changed because of the VUCA world. 

And I think we can frame the same understanding with a lot of the self-help that we see a lot of the traditional coaching that we see doesn’t……it’s really well intended…….but it’s not necessarily designed to actually help you to do, what you need to do, in the challenging VUCA world. That is, because…..two core reasons…….one is a lot of the self-help and the coaching insights you get are about knowledge. And sometimes they give you a few skills. But knowledge and skills don’t change your behaviour unfortunately. We all know that we need to eat five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, as a minimum, we know we need to walk about 10,000 steps a day. But we don’t do it. And the data is very clear. Last time I checked, the NHS we’re spending about 11 billion pounds a year on lifestyle related diseases connected to people not eating properly, or not exercising enough. Everyone’s got the knowledge and the skills to be able to do those two things. It’s just they’re not in the habit of doing them. So that’s one of the problems with the traditional self-help coaching approaches that we see. The other problem is that the models and the theories, those self help coaching programmes are built on are often very old A lot of them come from the 40s through to the 80s. And even if they’re newer, the vast majority of those approaches are not best in cutting-edge science. They don’t use the insights that we’ve gained from cutting-edge neuroscience. They don’t use – and I haven’t seen any of them that do this – that use the insights from cutting-edge behavioural science. So that they’re what we call “black box models”. That means they don’t take into consideration what actually goes on in your brain. That’s kind of understandable because what goes on in the brain, and how the environment explicitly impacts the brain and what we get good at doing and what we struggle to get good at doing….that science is very new. We’ve only been able to look inside people’s brains in real-time for 20 or so years now. But that’s the challenge. So we’ve got lots of well intended stuff out there. that’s designed to help people, but it isn’t cutting it. If we think about it, more people than ever before are seeking out that kind of support. Yet more people than ever before, don’t feel well. 

And I think the challenge is you try some of these things and because they’re not ever going to change your behaviour – because that’s ultimately designed to do that designed to give you more knowledge and skills – then you become disempowered, you become frustrated with yourself, you get a negative story that I can’t change because I’ve tried all that stuff. So it’s not you that can’t change because humans can and are designed to adapt. It’s just the things you’ve been trying are not actually fit for purpose. 

So today, I want to help us to start thinking about what we can do. And I’ve worked in this area of wellbeing, performance psychology and leadership science for over 21 years now, I’ve got three degrees in this area, including a PhD, I’ve invested circa half a million pounds in myself learning and developing my understanding of how to help people change their behaviour. So here are the highlights of what I understand and why I think you can start to make it easier for you to make successful change. 

I think the first thing is that we often beat ourselves up. We’re often overly negative with ourselves. So, we look at everyone else’s lives. And we imagine that they’re doing so so well. And we’re struggling and we should be doing better. So make sure you put some perspective on the challenges you’re facing in your life. And the efforts and energies you’re actually putting into being at your best, and we’re often doing better than we think we are. Because we’re always doing this negative comparison with other people’s lives. 

So to get better at self-watching – and not be overly ambitious and expect to be 10 out of 10 every day because life isn’t like that – we’ve got to get a little bit better at measuring ourselves. And then I think one of the big misconceptions we have about our mental states and our mental health and our mental performance is that we can do practice and training on these areas in the short term. That’s going to fix everything, and then we can just default back to what we always did, which wasn’t practising and training those areas. 

And I think a better way of looking at this is to explore this idea. Imagine if you’re training for a marathon, you know that you got a marathon coming up in 12 months time, you know, you’re going to have this, this structured training schedule. And you accept that you’re going to have to do this weekly, daily, even training. And also, you’re going to accept that from time to time, you might get a little injury or a little niggle. And that’s going to put you back a little bit. 

So take that same understanding and apply it to your brain health, your brain performance, and everything that stems from that, like you’re sleeping well, eating well, exercising properly, managing stress, managing confidence, being productive, performing well under pressure, being a great leader. Think about your brain, something that you need to be training and working on all of the time. And sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do, your immune system will get knocked back, something inside your body will be working properly. You can’t see it. But it just makes you feel not so great. It doesn’t mean the things that you’ve been practising and trying are not working. It just means that when you pull a muscle, something’s happened in your body, and you just need to give it time to rehabilitate. So we can’t just use emergency tools to rectify thinking problems as and when they emerge, we need to have this consistent way of practising. That’s obviously a lot of what we teach people to do in our Tougher Minds programmes. 

And one of the things we’ve just released this week is a short course, which helps people to start becoming Habit Mechanics. Because I think if you do want to be healthy, happy and at your best, to become an excellent leader, adopting a new identity is absolutely essential in what is a very challenging world. 

So for a long time we’ve been helping people to become Habit Mechanics, but we’re sort of just opening this up to everybody at the minute, to become a Habit Mechanic is to be working on yourself all the time. And everyone’s on a continuum. One end of the continuum is you almost feel like you need to rebuild, because you’ve got some really unhelpful habits going on. The other end of the continuum is just refinement, of just refining myself, I’m just tweaking myself. And this is what we’re always encouraging our clients to do, is just keep doing this personal research on themselves just to get these tiny little improvements that make you feel like you’re making progress and you’re doing better. And by doing that, you’re rewiring your brain, you’re allowing your brain to change. So becoming a habit mechanic. I think it’s a really quick way to start doing better. 

We run on habits. If you’ve seen anything about what we do from it, you’ll see we run on habits. The data is very compelling most of the day, most of the time his mindless behaviour. We’re not thinking very consciously about what we’re doing. So our habits are running everything. If we’ve got a worrying problem it is a habit problem. If we’ve got a beating ourselves up problem, it’s a habit problem. If we’ve got a stress problem, it’s a habit problem. If we’ve got a problem with our leadership, it’s a habit problem. If we’ve got problems in our families, it’s habit problems. If we have problems with working from home, it’s a habit problem. If we’ve got problems with our performance at work in our teams, it’s a habit problem. 

So habits underpin everything. Therefore we need to adopt the identity of a Habit Mechanic. And earlier this week, we released the free course that anyone can take, if you just go to our website, you can take the become a Habit Mechanic course. And this will get you moving in the right direction, to start thinking about how you can start training your brain to build better habits much more consistently. So it just becomes part and parcel of what you do. 

So that’s why I wanted to share today, I hope that’s helpful. The world is difficult, and it is challenging. But we can condition ourselves to deal with things better. And there’s no magic wands out there. There’s no one book you’re going to read that is going to change your life. Because knowledge and skills, don’t change your behaviour. Habits dominate your behaviour. So you need to go from the knowledge to the skill to the habit. So become a habit mechanic, and take that positive first step. 

As always, guys, if you have any questions about the podcast, just contact us via the website. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you have. And please do have a go accessing the course and work through it to learn how your brain works, learn how habits work, and learn how you can start to do tiny little things every day to make your life easier.


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