Creating sticky habits so you don’t have to rely on willpower

Creating sticky habits so you don’t have to rely on willpower

I recently delivered a diving experience day at the Olympic pool in London. In attendance were a small group of adult participants who have never dived before.

It would have been crazy to take everyone up to the 10 metre board and ask them to dive off as their first ever dive!  Of course we started simply on the 1-metre board, moved up to the 3-metre then 5-metre and so on, only progressing when the participant was more comfortable and their skill was solid enough to move higher. Each of the participants managed to break all the boundaries they had set themselves at the start of the session (I can’t jump off this height, etc), many of them jumping from the 10m board.  This step-by-step approach helps people progress smoothly through what can be a daunting challenge. 

Habits are best built slowly.  It’s about turning a dial, rather than swinging a pendulum. Incremental changes, as opposed to big leaps, result in habitual patterns sticking with you because you don’t really notice the change in your behaviour.

bare-biology-health-better-in-30-free-lifestyle-plan-Creating sticky habits so you don’t have to rely on willpower-by-leon-taylor

Photograph by Francesco Gallarotti 

Let’s suppose that one of your goals is to run a 10-km race in 2017 and you’ve never even run for a bus before. In order to go after this goal you’ll need a running training plan.  If you went for the pendulum tactic your plan might be to get up each day and run as far as you can, as fast as you can, every single day and see how you get on! I predict the pendulum would swing back pretty fast and you’d end up not doing any running pretty soon. 

Get enthusiastic about your achievements and celebrate them.

Alternatively, if you went for the turning the dial approach you could start by running to the end of your street every day for the first week, then week two around your local park every other day and week 3 you add running back from the morning school drop-off – ticking each run off as you go.  What happens here is that you adjust to the small changes and by week four you’ll be running so much more but won’t really notice it. Therefore the habit of running is built and sticky, so it’s easier to keep it up. 

Get enthusiastic about your achievements and celebrate them; in the above example you could put your runs and challenges on social media and share them with your friends or groups that can encourage and support your efforts further.

We all know that we need a plan to achieve our goals.  What do you really want and what habit do you need to create in order to move towards your goal?  Design a plan where you make small trackable changes each week - turn the dial and make your habit a sticky one.


Leon Taylor is your Better in 30 Performance Coach. He’s a three-time Olympic athlete, BBC Sports commentator and mentor to diving sensation Tom Daley.  Leon was the first British Olympian in over 44 years to win a silver medal in diving at the Athens Olympics.

Main photograph by Agberto Guimaraes.
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