How To Change a Habit with Agile Results



“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” — Jim Ryun

What if you could change any habit or add a new one, what would you change?

I do a lot of mentoring on change, and one of the most common questions I get is, “How can I change a habit?”  Whether you are trying to change a habit or add a new habit, it can be a real challenge and a chore.

Change is truly a challenge, especially when we’re talking about changing habits.

On a good note, you can use Agile Results, introduced in Getting Results the Agile Way, to change a habit more effectively.  It helps to stack the deck in your favor.   You put time, repetition, and learning on your side.  For an introduction to Agile Results, check out Getting Started with Agile Results.


To change  a habit, you have to want to change, know how to change, and practice the change until it sinks in.  To effectively change a habit, it helps to first know what can work against you.  For example, if, deep down, you don’t really want to change, then you’ll work against your own success in subtle ways.

Another thing that can work against you is if you don’t give it enough time.  Think of building your new habit like carving out a new groove.  It takes a while to carve out a new path.  It might take several days before your change starts to stick and becomes more automatic.  It also might take time to figure out how to deal with your setbacks.   You also have to give yourself time go get over the humps along the way.

As Tony Robbins says, “repetition is the mother of skill.”  If you can make your habit a daily routine that you can practice, you can get better faster.  The other key is to remind yourself that change feels awkward and it’s a phase you’ll pass through before things start to feel natural.  Allow for your setbacks, and try again.  Most importantly, acknowledge and appreciate when you perform your habit, even if it does just feel like you’re going through the motions.  Going through the motions is often part of the process that leads to deeper change.

Summary of Steps

  • Step 1.  Create a Compelling “Why”
  • Step 2. Pick something specific to practice.
  • Step 2.  Make it a theme for the month.
  • Step 3.  Use a 30 Day Improvement Sprint.
  • Step 5.  Do it daily.
  • Step 6.  Make it one of your Three Wins.
  • Step 7.  Use Friday Reflection to review.

Step 1. Create a Compelling “Why”

One of the supporting practices in Agile Results is Compelling “Why”.  If you start with “Why”, you give yourself something to fall back on, when you need inspiration or motivation to get back on track.

Why do you need to change to this new behavior?  If you don’t feel you need to, you aren’t going to do it.  Meaningful change happens out of purpose or pain, not convenience.
To bottom line it, if it’s not compelling, you won’t change.  You need a strong, emotionally compelling reason to make the change.  Are you doing it for yourself?  Are you doing it for your kids?  Find the reason that gives you the most inner strength.  You’re going to need this during your trying times and your moments of choice.

Change doesn’t have to take forever.  Remember Ebenezer Scrooge — it was a life-changing event for him and it happened over night.

Step 2. Pick Something Specific to Practice.

The real key here though is having something to move towards or change to.  It’ tough to just move away from a pattern.  Instead, have a replacement pattern that you want to implement.

By picking something specific, you can practice and get better.  Start small.   Pick something that’s easy for you to get started.   This will help you just start.  The daily practice will help you improve.

Step 3.  Make it a Theme for the Month.

Create a meaningful mantra that will inspire you throughout the month.   For example, maybe it’s “Take Action More, Procrastinate Less” or “Rise and Shine in the Morning’’ or “Do the Tough Stuff.”   Think of the change that you want to achieve, and make it your theme for the month.   This theme will be a backdrop that helps remind you and get you back on track when you lose focus.  It will also help your month be more meaningful.

A mantra that Stephen Covey used while he was losing weight was, “Thinner tastes better.”   Play around and test what works for you, that makes sense for the change you want to achieve.  You can use your little mantra in those moments when you need it most, in addition to your compelling “Why.”

Step 4.  Use a 30 Day Improvement Sprint.

Do a little every day for thirty days.   One of the practices in Agile Results is 30 Day Improvement Sprints.  Use a 30 Day Improvement Sprint to try something small each day to help you build your habit.

This is all about stacking up the days of the month to get them on your side.  You might have a hard time each day achieving the change you want.  Instead, get the whole month on your side.

The small changes will add up quickly.  If something you try, doesn’t work, that’s information that you can use to adjust your approach.  By doing these small experiments, and testing what works (and finding out what doesn’t), you’ll continuously make progress towards your goal (even if sometimes it feels like a step back.)

Step 5.  Do it Daily.

The most powerful thing you can do is setup a recurring calendar appointment and stick to it.  It’s actually easier to do something daily then it is to do something every other day or every few days or periodically or when the moment strikes.  Doing it daily builds momentum, and it helps built the habit by making it a routine, slowly at first, and then it gets easier as you go.

There are two main ways to practice your habit:

  1. Recurring time each day.   Pick a specific time of day to practice.   Actually put it on your calendar, as a reminder and set a block of time so you make time for it.  In general, the earlier in the day, the better because you have more control first thing in the morning.  If you’re trying to build a new habit, a powerful way is to pick a specific time of day to actually practice it.  If you can do it at the same time each day, that’s the ideal, because you will help make it automatic.
  2. Response to a trigger.  If the habit you want to change is more event based, meaning it happens in response to an event that triggers it, then identify the trigger or event.  Identify how you want to respond to the trigger.  For example, what specifically do you want your new behavior to be?  Keep it simple.  Keep it actionable.   Anchor it to the trigger: “When X happens, I want to respond by doing Y.”  For example, “When I feel I’m reacting out of anger, I want to respond with compassion and care, and choose my words more carefully.”

In both cases, the idea is to have a specific behavior that you want to do.

On one of my previous teams, the mantra was, “If it hurts, do it more.”   The idea was that it hurt because it was too hard to do, because of a lack of practice or too much friction.  By doing it daily, you would gradually find ways to reduce the friction.   So if we were learning a new way to do things, we would do it daily so that the daily practice would get easier.  This way we could bite off a little each day, learn, and then try again.

Step 6.  Make it One of Your Three Wins.

With Agile Results, you focus on Three Wins:  Three Wins for the day, Three Wins for the week, Three Wins for the Month.   Changing a habit is worth calling out as one of your Three Wins:

  • Three Wins for the Day.   What is a win for the day that would reflect that you achieved something regarding your habit?  For example, maybe one of your wins for the day is to have a great work out.
  • Three Wins for the Week.  What is a win for the week that would reflect that you achieved something regarding your habit?  For example, maybe one of your wins for the week is to make every work out count.
  • Three Wins for the Month.   What is a win for the month that would reflect that you achieved something regarding your habit?  For example, maybe one of your wins for the month is to adopt a new exercise habit.

Having wins at the day, week, and month gives you different zoom levels and focus.  It’s also a way to chunk up your progress, as well as divide and conquer the problem.  Your challenge for the day, might just be to show up for your workout, while your challenge for the week might be to show progress in a specific area.

Use your “wins” as a way to add extra focus and attention.  Make it meaningful.  If you’ve struggled in the past to actually start your exercise routine, then it really is a win and acknowledge it as such.

Step 7.  Use Friday Reflection to Review.

In Agile Results, Friday Reflection is a chance to review the week.  During the review, you identify what’s going well and what to improve.   You can use Friday Reflection to take a step back and look at how your change is working.   You can then identify very specific and actionable ways to improve.   This is for you, and it’s your information, so the more honest you are with yourself here, the better off you are.   By being honest with yourself about what’s working and what’s not, you can change your approach.   Changing your approach if it’s not working is the key to success.

While it can be tough to change a habit, you have a much better chance with the system on your side.  To keep trending in the right direction, rather than focus on “success” or “failure”, focus on what you try, what you learn, and how you improve.