We've all fallen guilty to the excitement over new found hobbies and goals starting on the first of January every year, but by the time February rolls around we've lapsed in our diet or workout routine. Usually the initial enthusiasm over the our pursuit of change dwindles when results are not immediately seen.
In pursuit to modify my own habits this year, I read James Clear's "Atomic Habits." In my opinion, a truly life-changing book. There are certain components of my life that I've wanted to adapt for a long time such as meditating regularly, journaling, stretching, and even something as simple as sending a dang email.
One of the largest takeaways from Clear's book was to associate a new habit with part of your identity. Instead of saying "I want to journal more" I will tell myself "I am a writer." By linking this habit to my identity I can now look at my day and when faced with the decision of another episode of whatever I'm currently binging, or taking half an hour to reflect on the day's happenings with my notebook, I ask "what would a writer do?"
Make it Obvious
One of the reasons new habits fail is because they aren't ingrained in our brain yet. Sometimes the first step in forming a new habit is simply making it more obvious. If you want to write more, leave your pen and notebook in a high traffic area of your home. Everytime you walk past the notebook you will be reminded to write. Conversely, if you are trying to break a bad habit say watching too much Netflix before bed, omit the temptation altogether by placing your TV or computer in a hidden place.
Make it Attractive
While the act of running a mile may not seem appealing for someone who hasn’t run in over a year, rewarding yourself with an episode of your favorite Netflix binge while you run on the treadmill can make that task a bit less daunting, and eventually enjoyable.
When trying to develop foreign, possibly difficult, behaviors one way to make them more appealing is to pair them with something you want to be doing, for instance watching your favorite show while you run.
Make it Easy
Another habit I wanted to start putting into practice is keeping up consistent communication with clients on ongoing projects. Especially in this remote world we are living in, our primary method of communication is email. Lauren was finding herself stressing out with a sort of social anxiety about sending emails to clients (yes, this may sound silly but it was a major source of procrastination and anxiety). Sometimes the only thing needed to move a project forward was a simple “Hey, how is this coming along” or a “Here is what I need from you to start moving forward on my tasks.”
To start tackling this habit, Lauren started by making a list of whom she needed to email that day in order to keep projects on the right track. Once this list was made, drafting each email was step two. Some emails were short, while others needed to list out specific next steps and deliverables for clients and herself. What’s the next best step? Start with the short and sweet emails to get the ball rolling and then move on to tackling the larger more in-depth project updates.
Once you’ve accomplished the easy tasks, you’ll feel more capable of tackling the harder ones, even if it is just sending emails.
Make it Satisfying
Nothing feels better than a sense of accomplishment on finishing a difficult or lengthy task or receiving praise from a large feat at work. But often, finishing a task is not the motivation we need to start. The fourth law of behavior change, make it satisfying, is what Clear describes as the cardinal rule of behavior change.
Maybe you want to get in the habit of waking up earlier. Everytime you wake up an hour before you normally do, you reward yourself with a latte from the local coffee shop. Now, not only do you have an extra hour before work to leisurely walk the dog or organize your day, but now you can do so with a delicious caffeinated beverage in-hand.
Conversely, if trying to rid yourself of a bad habit making it unsatisfying is the key. Clear uses the example of a man who wanted to start working out more. He signed an accountability contract (basically an informal agreement that brings a third-party of accountability into shaping your habits) with his wife and personal trainer. Each time he skipped a workout, he had to pay them $500. Losing $500 seems a lot more dissatisfying than lifting weights for half an hour...
Habits for the Long Haul
Whether it’s small habits like doing dishes before you go to bed (another habit on Lauren’s list this year), or larger habits like exercising for at least 30 minutes a day, taking minute steps in a forward direction is an excellent way to achieve them. As Clear says, “It’s better to do less than you hoped than to do nothing at all” (165). Eventually the accumulation of all of these tiny adjustments will lead to extraordinary results, so long as you put in the work consistently.
While this just scratches the surface of Clear’s research and practices these are the key points that I have been working on to develop better, more productive habits for 2021. Check out some of the resources mentioned in Clear’s book including his habit tracker, habit scorecard for classifying “good” and “bad” habits, and many other useful tools and articles.
*Note: This blog was originally published on eGuide Tech Allies*