Ever wanted to try to find the time for something, but every day you’re forced to concede that ‘it’ll have to wait’? It could be anything; self-improvement, language learning, reading, exercising, or even gardening. Finding the time to shoe-horn in a new activity to an already busy day can sometimes be frustrating. But it’s not impossible. It’s about turning actions into habits.
The FreeDictionary.com states that a habit is “a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition”. Turning actions into habits removes the biggest restriction on productivity – procrastination – from having a say. You literally just move from action to action in a state of habitual bliss, never stopping to consider whether you want or need something. It merely happens.
I’m not here to talk about the tedious bad habits we all hide away in the darkness of our homes; the nose pickers, the toe-nail biters, the toilet-seat-leaver-uppers. I am instead talking about the benefit of habitual action.
Think about how we do the stuff we do now. Do you actively make a choice to do everything that you do? Hopefully not. Most daily actions are done on autopilot. You think to yourself ‘brush your teeth’ and then BAM! there’s a toothbrush in your hand and your scrubbing away at your gnashers. It’s a habit you’ve been doing twice a day for practically your whole life. You don’t need to think about it any more. You just do it.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could hack your mind to think like this about other things that benefit you? You wake up, put a pot of coffee on, and sit down to do the days writing. Without any distractions of decisions needing to be made, you just know that the first three things you do every day are wake up, put on coffee, and sit down to write.
Not a writer? You can substitute any other action in there; practice the sitar, juggle, play chess, lion tame, do karate, morris dance… you decide. The difference is, by not thinking but merely doing, you remove the chance to change your mind or get distracted, and this helps you build a consistent platform of action on which to build upon. If it’s done every morning, it puts your habitual action into your ‘done tray’ before anything else has a chance to sap your energy or will power.
There are various ways to go about this, but my favourite so far comes from JamesClear.com. He’s a behavioural psychologist who writes about ways to adapt your daily life to fit your long term goals.
He puts the process into five easy steps:
- Start with a small habit – Write 100 words a day.
- Increase the habit in very small way – Add ten words a day every week
- As you build up, break habits into chunks – Write half the words before coffee, half after
- When you slip, get back on track quickly – Never miss two days in a row
- Be patient. Stick to a pace you sustain – Don’t expect too much of yourself
This format can be tweaked for nearly any activity. It’s all about keep the pace at a sustainable level, suited to your timetable and your level of progress.
The trick seems to be keeping the habit going as long as possible. The best advice I can give is make sure you commit to thirty days, and adjust your expectations on how this works out. If you can get through thirty days, it will be much closer to being a part of your routine, and you’ll have shown yourself a small landmark of what you can achieve.
Stuck For Ideas?
So, what do you think might be a good habit to have? For some, merely taking thirty minutes every day to be mindful and centre themselves with some positive thought would be enough. Others feel they would benefit from regular exercise, or the posture enhancing wonderment of a morning’s yoga.
- Hobbies; sewing, carpentry, painting, practising an instrument
- Keeping a journal
- Writing Letters to Friends
- Working Out
- Language Study
- Research on Interests
If there is something you feel would improve your life, or a skill you want to make time to get better at, then habitual practice should be a must.
I started trying to form a habit of reading every day, and from that I pushed into regular practice with Chinese, regular exercise, regular writing and taking the time to keep a journal. A year ago, I didn’t do any of these things, and yet now my life is richer for all of them. There is far less wasted time in my day, and as I expect to have most of these done before lunch, it leaves me the chance to enjoy the rest of my day without the pressure or worry in the back of my mind that I still had things I need to do.
It’s freeing and empowering, and it costs nothing to do.
What will be your new habit?
Special thanks to Feelart, gameanna, olovedog, scottchan and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.
© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015