Humans are creatures of habit. Various regular practices tend to be extremely beneficial for our overall wellbeing. For example, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day will regulate your sleep cycle. Should you find yourself in a state of languishing, a routine of journaling or talking to a friend every evening after work can be life-saving. As the saying goes, eating an apple day keeps the doctors away.
Whether habit formation is a smooth or painful process depends on many factors, yet the key determinant seems to be the fact that our bad habits tend to stick a lot easier than the good ones. Checking your phone every 15 minutes feels more doable than screen detox, right? Ok, it also depends on the type of person you are. See? So many factors are involved. Nonetheless, developing positive habits will ultimately help you break the bad ones.
Divide and Conquer
Progress becomes progress when it is tangible enough to be quantifiable. Yet, whenever you decide to track it, choose patience as your companion for this task. Success never happens overnight. Instead, it is built brick by brick, one drop of sweat and tears at a time, one habit at a time.
As always, baby steps will take you far. Since action sparks motivation, one of the best strategies for habit formation is implementing the Do Something principle. Whenever you decide to face a new challenge, take a tiny step towards your goal. For example, when switching to a healthier diet, add one vegetable to your meal. To start training for a 5K, run for 5 minutes a day. If you want to write a book, 100 words is still a decent beginning. Do something and you’ll have generated momentum.
One of our favorite Intelligent Change book club picks – Atomic Habits by James Clear – takes the notion of starting small even further. According to the author, we only need miniscule changes in our daily routines to ensure the formation and maintenance of a new habit (or the breaking of bad ones). Whatever we choose to get better at, if we improve by 1% every day for a year, we will end up a staggering 37% closer to our preferred result. This compound growth can take us anywhere we want.
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. (…) The effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.” ― James Clear
Thinking big starts at the atomic level. This way, it might take longer for you to form a habit, yet you’ll have better chances of retaining it. Remember the Aesop’s fable about the hare and the tortoise having a race? The tortoise won because the hare, ignorant in his bravado, fell asleep on the job. The slowest contestant stayed in the game, kept at it, one tiny step at a time, and won.
When In Doubt, Write It Out
That said, James Clear argues that systems, not goals, will keep you in the game for the long haul. Every Olympian wishes to win the gold medal, every interviewee wants to get the job, yet not everybody will be at the top. We say, keep your eyes on the prize, but tie your happiness to the journey and fall in love with the process. This way, your work will be sustainable and much more fun.
When it comes to habit formation, journaling is one of those systems that will keep you on track. Noting down your 1% changes every day will help you build accountability and self-awareness. Start by analyzing everything you do during an average week. You’ll be able to create time frames for new practices and pinpoint where your scheduling and organization needs improvement. Time likes to slip away on actions that could be eliminated and substituted with healthier habits.
Now, the time has come to start tracking your progress. Every day, make a note of how you performed, what went well, and where you fell short. Did you manage to execute the task exactly how you planned? What small changes could you implement to do it better tomorrow? What stage are you at when it comes to your satisfaction? Is the habit still difficult or more tolerable?
Tracking your mood and how you feel about the process will also be of interest to your journal. Be 100% honest with yourself every step of the way – observe and accept negative emotions (should they occur), and keep in mind that monitoring your emotional responses will help you pick the right habits in the first place. Think of your why, keep track of the intentions behind your choices, and make space for gratitude, it will give you necessary perspective and equip you with patience.
“Sometimes we get so focused on the difficulty of our climb that we lose sight of being grateful for simply having a mountain to climb.” – Oprah Winfrey
Getting Into the Habit
How do we get into the habit of habit journaling, you might ask? First of all, make it feel less like a chore. Take yourself out shopping and hunt for a new notebook or a good quality pen so that you are drawn to breaking the spine of your shiny journal and writing away.
Then, tailor the process to your needs and likes. The format does not matter one bit – pencils, crayons, paper, or an app – whatever floats your boat. Get creative: colorful graphs, tables, doodles, or black-and-white, yet unusual words – anything goes.
Be concise or write essays about your habits. Make journaling part of your morning or nighttime routine. Set a reminder on your phone or draw a poster and hang it over your desk. Keep the journal on your nightstand, or go for a walk with it – tie this practice to your other habits to facilitate your performance.
The Habit of Excellence
Habits build purpose. Cultivating the good ones will pave the way for you to become who you want to be and reach the heights you’ve always dreamed of. Small tweaks can lead to major transformations and trigger various revolutions. After all, our habits shape the quality of our lives. Yet, be kind to yourself and remember that while remarkable results are the sum total of our daily decisions, progress is never linear and failure is inevitable. Sometimes we might even end up accomplishing entirely different goals than we first expected, and that’s ok too.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ― Aristotle