The book “Change Your Habits, Change Your Life: Your Guide to an Awesome Life” by Ashdin Doctor shares the three Golden Rules for habit change that will help you to get out of a rut.
Packed with inspiring stories of people who have successfully used these methods to transform their lives, this book is the first step to becoming a happier, successful and more productive you.
Drawing on his years of experience as a habit coach and after experimenting with different habit formation techniques, Ashdin offers practical and simple steps for personal change in this book.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
One of the most common things you hear with regard to change is, ‘break out of your comfort zone’. Motivational gurus shout it out at the top of their voice. It sounds like such a hardcore concept. Like a bird breaking out from its egg and ready to fly, or a butterfly bursting out of its cocoon. These are very energetic images and it is easy to get sucked into the game of breaking out of your comfort zone. Common break-your-comfort-zone activities include bungee jumping, parachuting, etc. Initially accomplishing such feats gives you an adrenaline rush plus an upsurge of confidence, both of which can be addictive (but are temporary). You want more and more of it. You are egged on by the use of terms such as ‘grit’ and ‘determination’ by your motivation guru. Go for it! they say, and you do.
Breaking out of your comfort zone in this manner will ensure neither long-term change in your life nor in your habits, but will guarantee exhaustion followed by emptiness as you look for newer and newer activities that give you an adrenaline rush. Your net gain will not be much.
Most of us get swayed by the rush, instead of keeping our eyes on the prize, which is long-term change that can transform our lives.
Must a Comfort Zone Be Broken?
The United States Navy Seals are America’s elite special forces. The best of the best. In order to become a Navy Seal, trainees have to pass a five-day test that puts them through the most gruelling time of their life. They get four hours of sleep in all, and are fed very little food while they run, swim, exercise, carry logs and heavy boats and float for hours in the freezing cold sea during those five days. They have no idea what their next task is going to be. They can only imagine the horrors that the trainers have in mind. This five-day selection test is famous as Hell Week.
This is what it would feel like if you had no comfort zone. Where every day was blank and testing you to your limits. The Seals talk about how important that mug of coffee is, or resting on someone’s shoulder for just a few precious minutes. These are just small hints of their comfort zones that they crave during Hell Week. These small comforts help them recharge just a little bit. So, you see the comfort zone plays a very important role in our life. It is where we recharge and rest. It is where we feel safe and secure. It is where anxiety goes to sleep.
Our comfort zone houses all those activities, thoughts, people, and environments that make us feel safe, lower our anxiety or appear familiar enough to make us feel comfortable. A large part of our comfort zone is nothing but the habits that keep us comfortable, safe, and secure. Their familiarity means that we do not have to keep thinking about them. Most of them may be done on autopilot.
In other words, our comfort zone is a large part of our life. It is what keeps our life ticking along smoothly. If we did not have a comfort zone, we would feel like we were trapped in a war zone. Our stress and anxiety levels would go through the roof. In other words, our days would be unstable and filled with insecurity.
As opposed to Hell Week for aspiring Seals, the problem that most of us face is living out our entire lives within our comfort zones. If 90 per cent of our life is spent this way, we are not growing, not having any new experiences. New experiences allow us to learn new things, make mistakes and grow! Mistakes are a part of growth.
As your Habit Coach, I want you to keep trying new things. See what works for you. Then identify how these new experiences can turn into future habits. Your current habits define the life you are currently living. Your future habits will define the life you want to live. How will you know which future habits work for you or not? The only way is to try them out.
Stretching the comfort zone: I like to visualize this as an expert chef tossing a pizza. The dough starts off as a little ball. He presses it and expands it. Then he stretches it on the table as far as it will go without breaking. Next he carefully and lovingly kneads it. Then when the dough is ready, he tosses it up in the air. With each toss, it keeps growing bigger and bigger. But it does not break!
That is exactly what stretching our comfort zone should look and feel like. The first time you stretch it, go slow. The dough is not ready yet. Then expand it slowly and carefully. Once you are comfortable with stretching your comfort zone, increase the speed. Toss it up in the air and let it fly. You will notice expanding your comfort zone becomes almost a daily practice.
Expanding and growing existing habits: The trick to stretching a comfort zone is to expand and grow existing habits—the actions and thoughts you have each day, the schedule and routine that you currently follow. The idea is to pull on an existing habit just a little bit. Just enough for the outcome to be slightly new, but keeping the habit still very familiar. The keyword here is familiar. If it does not feel familiar, or if you need to struggle, you have stretched it to the point of breaking. This is the key to growth and sustainable habit change.
A daily dose of grit and determination: Many of us want to start waking up earlier. This is a goal that has become a medal of honour for the ‘ultra-productive’. I remember reading about how waking up at 4 a.m. was the key to success. This was many years ago before I understood the concept of habits and gradual change. I immediately set my alarm for 4 a.m. When the alarm went off, I felt I had slept for about five minutes. My eyelids felt like lead. I went to the gym by 5 a.m. The lights were off and the gym trainer lay asleep on one of the benches. That day I nodded off at every meeting I had planned. The day was a washout. Clearly, this was not the way to do it.
I had stretched and broken my comfort zone.
I still get messages from people asking me, ‘How do I start waking up at 5.30 a.m.?’ What most people do is set their alarm for 5.30 a.m. and change nothing else in their life. This sudden change from 8 to 5.30 a.m. only breaks their comfort zone and not much else. They can use grit and determination for a few days or more to get up at this time, but their motivation will eventually peter out.
I tell them to stretch their comfort zone by waking up just thirty minutes earlier each week. This adds thirty minutes to their morning routine giving it a more relaxed feel. They don’t have to think about how to fill the hours from 5.30 to 8 a.m. (the time their day normally got underway).
By setting a goal of waking up just thirty minutes earlier, they are able to make it a habit in a little over a month without too much stress and in a peaceful manner. They do not have to undergo the anxiety and stress of forcing a daily break-out of their comfort zone by summoning up grit and determination. By stretching the comfort zone just a little, a beneficial long-term change is triggered without collateral damage.
The role of challenges: Once in a while, however, breaking out of your comfort zone is necessary. We can try this in the form of a challenge where we do a particular activity for a set period of time. For example, a thirty-day no sugar challenge is something I urge people to do very often. We have had thousands of people do it in the past few years. Another way to challenge oneself is to do something hard once or twice a month, it could be something that you find extremely scary and difficult to do, but feel the need to overcome. For example, I have a fear of heights. Hence, I look for opportunities that will help me challenge this.
A few years ago, I went to learn how to do the flying trapeze in London where one hangs upside down from a bar, while flying through the air, a few floors above the ground. It is a very scary thing to do especially when you have a fear of heights. This way I broke out of my comfort zone, used grit and challenged myself. However, I cannot challenge myself every day like this. That would be a very tiring and exhausting life indeed.
Another way I like to challenge myself is by going on high-altitude treks and summiting various mountains. It is scary and pushes you to your limits, these lie way outside of your comfort zone. So, breaking your comfort zone is good, but when done in the right way and once in a while. For the rest of the time practice stretching your comfort zone by working on your existing habits.
The best way to practice stretching your comfort zone is by using The Three Golden Rules of Habit Change that are explained later in the book.