How habits have changed my life, and how you can harness their power too
Have you ever found yourself making the best plans? You are going to wake up tomorrow and be so successful and productive! Then what happens? Life, that’s what happens.
How can you make sure you actually accomplish all those well-laid plans? Tomorrow is a new day, but unless you change your habits, it will more than likely be a repeat of today…and yesterday…
Habits are an essential component to discovering our full potential in our lives. Habits save us from having to make unnecessary decisions throughout our day. This frees up our brains to think about more important decisions like tracking our bigger goals.
We only have so much willpower and we cannot afford to be spending any extra time thinking about – or making decisions about – the mundane daily activities that consume so much of our time.
In my research about habits, I have read a number of books on them. Some seemed more interested in using big scientific words and delving into the details of the brain, then actually teaching practical tips I can use in real life.
However, one book stood out. This book I could actually read and understand, and more importantly use her tips. I loved reading the book “The How and Wow of Habits” by Carrie Willard; it was a quick and easy read which is very important in today’s season of my life. She doesn’t try to talk in any fancy academic psychology terms which simply don’t compute in my brain, especially when I am just trying to relax during the baby’s nap-time.
Carrie obviously did her research before writing this book, and yet she didn’t overly price it on Amazon which would have made it out of reach for those of us on a budget. It is well written and full of very convincing facts – in case you need any convincing how life changing habits can be.
Carrie pointed out that when we are building habits, we need to remember the story of the tortoise versus the hare: the tortoise wins every time. Don’t try to do too much too quickly! We don’t need to wake up tomorrow and immediately start tracking 25 new habits; that is just setting ourselves up for defeat. Instead, let’s set ourselves up for success by taking it slow and building one new habit at a time. This is a lesson I have needed to learn many times, over and over again – don’t try to bite off more than I can chew.
Some of us, yours truly included, are “all or nothing” types; to solve this Carrie suggests using micro-habits instead of trying to hit a home run right out of the gate. Rather than saying “I will write a novel this year” or even “I will write for 1 hour every day” simply set the goal or daily habit to focus on writing 25 words a day and see where that takes you. On days when you are too tired or simply not inspired, 25 words aren’t hard; and on days when inspiration strikes you just might surprise yourself with how much progress you can make.
Using the ideas from Carrie Willard’s “The How and Wow of Habits” and combining them with “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan; I have created a simple habit tracker sheet that I use to build up good habits slowly over time. Tracking brings awareness to not only building good habits but also tracking when we are succumbing to bad habits.
The One Thing
When tracking the process of building new habits, some people like to add in one new habit a month for 12 months, thus ensuring they are building 12 good habits over the course of a year. Really, though the timeline is arbitrary; what is important is consistently working towards improving ourselves and our lives. I have created my tracker to cover 21 days; a familiar length of time that many experts agree is sufficient to establish a new habit.
“Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character.” – Stephen Covey
The first question we need to ask ourselves is: what is the one that I need to do daily, such that by doing it will make everything else easier or unnecessary? I learned this concept from Gary Keller and Jay Papasan from their book, “The One Thing.”
For me, this means getting up at 5A.M. every morning. And believe me this is painful for a night owl like me! However, I have found that by getting up before the rest of my family awakens I am able to focus on myself. And I can actually have some quiet time before the madness of my day starts. Plus this is usually the one time of day when I get to finish my coffee while it is still hot! #bonus
Carrie Willard calls this “one thing” her keystone habit, as building this one habit will then cascade into other good habits. The first one is the hardest one; and when I find myself falling off the wagon on getting up early, I will change my focus to getting to bed at a decent time. I learned this concept from FlyLady, my favorite cleaning guru! We cannot expect ourselves to get up early if we are staying up until all hours of the night to catch Chelsea Lately! Set the DVR and get to bed on time, she is on Netflix these days anyway.
By focusing my keystone habit of getting to bed at a decent time, this makes all my other tasks easier as I am not so tired the next day. It also helps to eliminate the need for multiple alarm clocks as I am intentionally going to bed at a time when I know I will get the recommended amount of sleep. We cannot pour from an empty jar; let’s remember to take care of ourselves first so that we can continue to pour into the lives of those around us.
“Water cuts through rock not by power but by persistence”
It all starts with our first keystone habit, and asking: What is the one thing I can start doing today that will make everything else in my life easier or unnecessary? To help you track your new keystone habit over the next 21 days I have created a cute habit tracker worksheet. I have also taken it one step further and included room to track your morning and evening routines. If you are familiar with Flylady, you will recognize this idea immediately.
What I have found is that by taking out the thinking during these times when I am not at my peak, I am better able to keep my daily life functioning like a well-oiled machine. If you would like to print out this tracker, fill out the form below and I will send it to your inbox right away. Be sure to save the email so you can print it out over and over again as you add in new keystone habits that can build on your previous hard work!