Instilling the Habit: How to Start Something Hard
The older we get, the harder it becomes to start new habits…and break old ones. We begin in earnest, but soon we fall back; the good seem to slip, and the bad seem to creep in. The best way to keep yourself accountable is to ask yourself this simple question (looking into a mirror is optional):
Am I doing what I want?
Personally, 2017 has been a year of working hard to establish some new habits in my own life. Lately, I kept getting to the end of the week with a laundry list of “I wishes” still unchecked. So, I sat down and made a plan to get what I wanted to the top of the list, and so far it's working out well. Here's what I did:
1. Start With A Plan – Seriously, make this happen first. It needs to be detailed, measurable, and a bit of a stretch. Think about what you want it to look like, how it's going to happen, and if it's flexible to stand up to a few of life's screwballs. Now, keep in mind that habits take a while to go from chore to routine, so you need to make sure that the timeline is long enough for you to make it a new normal. The common thought is at least 21 days, but a lot of sources say it's closer to about 2 months.
2. Set a Manageable Goal (and track it) – You'll never be able to assess your success if you don't keep track of your progress. Make a chart, start a Google doc, use an app, begin a journal.
3. Name What You Want – You don't need a mantra, but it's helpful to come up with a line or two about why you're doing this. A phrase or definition that means something to you can sometimes be the only way for your temporary, forgetful self to check in with your long-term values.
4. Ramp It Up – Don't just start it up on day one. Ease into a habit a bit at a time so the transition happens smoothly. For me, I started exercising three days a week, then ramped up to five after a few weeks. This slow start gave me time to adjust life around the commitment and still be flexible to get it in like I planned.
5. Be Brutal – There can be no excuse for missing. Sure, be flexible, but don't let yourself off with an excuse. I worked out at 10 at night, or made up for it the next day, but I never skipped. There will always be a reason out there why you can't stick to your goals, but you need to make sure it's not an excuse to skip the hard stuff.
6. Keep At It – It's inevitable that there will be a legit reason that makes maintaining your habit hard. A major shift in life will probably happen. That's when you need to revamp the plan and dive back in. Like they say, don't complain about the storm, just adjust your sails.
7. Reassess your goals – Now that you're into it, did you set reasonable expectations for yourself? Do you need to push harder, or adjust to something more reasonable. Make a note in your log, and initial it with the date to make it official.
8. Make It Stick – After all that hard work, you need to have a plan to make it stay. This is where a bit of discipline and a bit more planning work well. Think about why you want the habit, the good that's coming from it, and all of the reasons you want it to stick around. I have mine written down and I look at them again when I'm getting a bit sloppy. Right now, working out makes me feel better, look better, and I can climb mountains better. That's a lot of progress I'd hate to walk away from.
Keep in mind that habits can evolve over time to still match up your ultimate goals, so stay flexible, and keep up the good work.