This may seem obvious, but when you are trying to develop new habits and behaviors, one of the biggest areas to consider is your ability to actually do that new habit. If it’s too hard, you won’t be able to sustain the new habit unless highly motivated to do so —which, as we’ve mentioned, is not the right area to focus on. However, the point isn’t that you’ll never be able to learn new skills. The point is to think about ability differently. Instead of thinking that either you can do something or you can’t, breaking ability down into pieces will help you figure out what makes the new habit difficult to do.

When it comes to developing new behaviors, BJ Fogg breaks ability down into six categories that he called the “ability chain”:

  1. Time Do I have the time to devote to this?
  2. Money Can I afford to do this?
  3. Physical Effort Can I physically do this?
  4. Mental Effort Do I have the mental energy to do this?
  5. Routine Does the habit fit into my routine or will it require an adjustment?
  6. Social Is this behavior consistent with my social environment and values?

Once you’ve broken down ability into small chunks, you can start to figure out what exactly your are  struggling with. Fogg says to ask the “Discovery Question:” For each link on the ability change ask yourself if that makes the new habit hard to do. Once you identify the ability (or abilities) that make doing this behavior hard, look for ways to make it easier.

Take running as an example. Do you have the time to run a couple times a week? Do you need to buy new shoes or clothes? If so, do you have the money to buy those things? Are you physically able to run? How much mental energy will going for a run take? Does going for a run change your routine too much? Is running consistent with my values? Once you go through the list, you can probably narrow the problem areas down to one or two of the links in the chain and focus on those. So, if my issue is that I can’t physically run for 30 minutes straight, maybe I start by trying to run for 5 minutes straight, then walk for a few minutes, then run for another 5. Then, over time, I’ll build up the strength to run for longer and longer stretches.

At the end of the day, it’s always better to start small in ways that addresses each link in the ability chain. Then you will be in a better position for sustained change over time.


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