It was seriously cold. Think, minus 28 degrees Celsius. My eyelashes were frozen… my hair was frozen… and there, on the back of a sled, whizzing through the breathtaking Swedish scenery, I learned a really nifty trick when it comes to developing healthy habits.
From a husky, of all things.
Yup, my 2018 trip to Sweden with the Empress collective of female entrepreneurs certainly came with some unexpected results! And I want to share one of them with you today – because it might just make the difference when it comes to any healthy habits you’re planning to create.
What a husky has to teach you about habits
Just in case you’re not au fait with dog-sledding terminology (you mean that’s not one of the many strings to your bow?), here’s how it works.
The sled is made up of a team of dogs. To the untrained eye, it looks like they’re all pelting madly in the direction you want to be heading.
But, as in any effective team, every member plays a different role. There are some that are great for balancing the sled on turns and corners; others who provide the “muscle” that keeps the pace up and the momentum going.
And right at the front, are the “Lead Dogs”. These are the ones that caught my imagination – and I’m going to explain how they relate to you, I promise!
Lead dogs are great at listening to and responding to commands. They’re fearless, and motivated to keep bounding forward even when the going gets tough. In short, they’re the dogs which pull all the others behind them, keeping them on course.
And this is where your habits come in. You see, there are certain needs which I now think of as “lead needs”. They pull everything else behind them.
For me, a really key need is sleep. If I have a good night’s sleep, I’m more likely to meet all my other needs more effectively – drink enough water, do my morning pages, make a healthy breakfast… everything else follows on from there.
Why “lead needs” make a difference
In the words of Sarah Stokey, of Turning Heads Kennel in Alaska,
“Sled dogs with good attitudes see obstacles as challenges to overcome and they thrive in adversity. Great lead dogs do not back down when the going gets tough, rather that is when they shine the most!”
Your “Lead Needs” will operate in exactly the same way. When life gets full and challenges arise, embedding these key habits will help support you in every other area of your life.
So when you’ve figured out your “lead needs”, how do you build habits around them that will really stick?
Habits that stick
In his excellent book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg calls these kinds of foundational needs “Touchstone habits”. They’re the habits which have a knock-on effect on multiple other areas of your life.
When it comes to getting these behaviours in place, he suggests a 3 step process:
Now in my experience, the “cue” part bears careful thinking about.
Research shows us that if we’ve thought through in really specific detail exactly what we’ll do when it comes to a desired behaviour, we’re much more likely to follow it through.
Thinking through the real-life scenario of what you’ll do as part of your new habit can also help you identify the little tweaks that will allow you to craft a truly effective trigger for what you want to do.
Creating an effective trigger
Let me give you an example. A while back I had a goal to drink more water. I came up with a great cue – every time I took a loo break, I’d have a drink of water. The more hydrated I am, the more I need to go, so it’s a virtuous circle, right?
Only, when I thought through the actual step-by-step of how that would work, I realised that something often stopped me. I didn’t want to go into the kitchen when Rosie, my little girl, was playing – it would disrupt my work time and distract her from her activities too.
So my game-changing action was to leave a jug of water in the hallway, so I didn’t need to go into the kitchen. That made the cue I’d chosen really effective.
Maybe for you you’d love to get to bed earlier.
You think through what needs to happen – and realise that when it doesn’t it’s usually because you’ve been on your phone, scrolling through social media and falling down those “internet rabbit holes” that suck us in.
The solution might be to set an alarm on your phone for an hour before bedtime and at that point, literally switch off the wi-fi router. That’s a powerful trigger for your bedtime routine, with a reward of a lovely herbal tea in your favourite mug, to help you drift off.
So here’s my suggestion if you’d like to implement a new habit:
1. Identify your Lead Need
(It might be a Touchstone like exercise, which research shows has several beneficial effects or something you know makes a huge difference to you personally.)
2. Think through the actions you’ll need to take
Include what blocks or challenges you can head off before they stop you
3. Pick your trigger and set yourself up to succeed
Make sure you choose a lovely reward – it doesn’t need to cost money or be complicated – to celebrate your new habit!
I’d love to know how this works out! Let me know in the comments, and share your healthy habits with others.
Not sure what your lead would be?
If you know you’d love to feel healthier and more energised, but aren’t sure where to begin, you might be interested in joining us for BeVital – a 2-day retreat where you’re guided through an in-depth look at how you can bring more vitality into your life. It’s definitely not a bootcamp, a diet or an exercise regime – more a gentle, supportive transformational process designed to give you back control.
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