How does one get so good at something? If you have a look at most of the top performers in your entourage you might notice a trend. They have integrated key habits in their daily life. It might be exercising, journaling, cooking instead of buying ready-made meals, etc.
They have not started everything all at once of course, but they choose one day that they were implementing a new habit. And they stuck to it.
Sometimes I wish I would have started my morning routine earlier, but as we all know, we can’t change the past. All we can do now is focus on today. And today we can work on building good habits.
How can you build new habits?
Start now! Taking action is key. If you imagine yourself in a few months from now, what habits to you want to have implemented. Things you’ll do without even feeling like you are pulling a tooth. It will be so ingrained in your life, you’ll actually be looking forward to it, or even better, you’ll do it without even a second thought.
Having a reachable goal, as long as you keep working towards it, will make you feel better, and potentially grow more confident in your abilities.
What habit should you pick?
You can pick anything, from learning a language, exercising, flossing, writing, and anything in-between. Some of them will obviously be easier than others to follow. Which is why I do not recommend trying to develop all those habits all at once. Pick one. Now. And write it down.
I kept saying I wanted to learn languages yet I used not to actually take the time to do it. When I did think about it, I would do one lesson on Duolingo or other apps. And the next day would be too lazy or distracted and I ended up not doing it again for a few weeks. And I would get discouraged. And quit.
One way I found to motivate myself is to write it down on a calendar. A few friends have made fun of my home-made calendars and all my codes on it. But it works for me! Maybe you need to create an alert on your phone or get your outfit ready for your morning workout. Whatever it is you need to do so that you don’t have to consciously think about it, do it!
If the first thing you see when you wake up in the morning is your journal and pen ready on the table, or your workout outfit on the chair, it makes it a lot harder to simply walk past it and ignore it.
Including exercising in your daily routine
I started exercising more regularly when I moved back to Canada in 2014. I had been travelling for over a year, managed to keep quite a fit figure while hiking and exploring cities, and I wanted to keep it that way. I discovered Tone It Up on YouTube and I quickly was addicted. The first workouts were hard, though. I discovered many muscles I didn’t know I had.
When I started, my goal was to do something active every day. It didn’t matter what it was, or how long I would be moving for. As long as I was doing something. I started to count my hour walk to the library as part of my daily dose of exercise.
Because I started with an attainable goal, I did manage to fit something in every day. And I built on this newly acquired habit. When I can’t do my morning workout now, I still find a way to be active.
Sometimes it’s not possible for me to do my workouts or yoga for a few days, for example when I’m staying in a dorm or doing a long train or bus ride. When I finally manage to get back to it however it feels so good, it usually even earns a mention in my journal!
Journaling to help you keep track
After reading that Tim Ferriss, one of the most successful people I admire, was journaling every day, I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t sure how to do it to start with.
I had already been writing my travel journal on my laptop, usually listing what I had done, who I had met and places I had been. But I wanted to take this to a different level. As I find writing with pen and paper a lot easier and more inspiring, I decided to buy a small notebook. I had decided to challenge myself to write an entry in my book every day for 30 days. And only after those 30 days, I would decide if that was something I wanted to keep as part of my daily habits.
Some days I had absolutely no idea what to write about. I still do from time to time, and even if it’s not easy, pushing through it keeps me into the habit of writing.
A few months later, I realised I was already getting towards the end of my book. I couldn’t believe I wrote all that stuff and had not skipped a day. I do feel like I complain a lot and always end up talking about the same issues when I am journaling, but it does help me to get stuff off my chest and move on.
As I wrote when I finished my second journal: “I can’t believe I’m already finishing my second journal when I didn’t even believe I could journal for one month! I’m quite impressed and happy that I managed to do that. I do like journaling. It helps me remember things and see situations more clearly with a more objective view. And also very important, it allows me to process my frustrations, deceptions, and other more negative feelings.”
I’m now well into my fourth journal, and it’s another habit that makes me feel much better. I do enjoy this me-time in the morning while enjoying my tea or coffee. I usually reflect on the day before or write about what worries me. In order to keep challenging myself, I now push myself to keep writing even when I feel like I am ready to stop. And this is usually when the good stuff comes out.
Waking up early and doing more
Now this one is the new one I am working on. I realised that regardless of what time I start working, towards the end of the afternoon, I struggle to keep going. So by getting up an hour earlier, I actually do get one more hour of work in every day, without even realising it. Some of you might find this one obvious, but it takes a fair amount of will to get up earlier when everybody else is still sleeping!
As I’m still working on this one, I can’t say I have developed this habit quite yet. In order to make this more doable, I’ve taken to going to bed earlier as well. Sounds simple I know, but that’s another thing that is easier said than done!
Breaking bad habits
It works the same way, you pick one and do one day. And then a second day. And a third…
I was inspired by the Kaizen Challenge for this part. The challenge was a bit much, in my opinion, to keep up for a long period of time, but I do find that breaking bad habits is as important as building new ones.
Bringing my phone in bed with me is a very bad habit that I’m going to get rid of once again. I’m starting to use my alarm clock and leave my phone further away. I think that bedtime should be a quiet time and as much as possible a no screen time. And it goes quite well with my getting up earlier habit I’m working on. Instead of being on my phone when I go to bed, I’m currently working to get back to a good habit I used to have before: reading until I fall asleep. It does mean that more often than not I’ll fall asleep in my book, but I find it helps me get up earlier, as there’s no next episode starting in 15 seconds…
I find that to break a habit, you need to start by understanding where it’s coming from and what you are getting from it.
One of the habits I’m working on breaking, once again, is to cut the snacking on crap food when reading or watching TV. For some reasons, it feels like I’m missing something when I am not snacking. And it’s not always easy to find another habit to substitute instead of eating cookies and chocolate. But I found that fruits work for me. Of course not buying snacks is also quite helpful, as I know I have a really hard time to avoid eating chocolate when I know I have some. I’ve quit for a while before but sometimes bad habits are easier to slide back into. I do know however that if I’ve done it once, it means I can do it again. One day at a time.
I’ve included the exercise of asking myself the five whys when I want to break a bad habit. For example, when I was doing my 30-day alcohol-free challenge, I would ask myself: why do I want to drink wine usually? To calm me down. Why? Because I’m stressed. Why? I’m stressed I’m going to fail with my new venture. Why? Because I’ve not given it my all before and I feel like self-sabotage will ensure I don’t get a different result! The five whys can be quite challenging as you have to be truly honest with yourself, but give it a try. It helps to make more sense of what the actual issue I need to address is.
It won’t be easy. And some days you’ll feel like you dropped the ball. But you’ll get back into it.
Some periods I find it more challenging to write or stick to my routine. Sometimes I skip a few days, but when I catch myself slacking out, I try again. And, as always, exercising first thing in the morning makes me feel so much better. It’s always hard to find the motivation but the feeling afterwards makes it worth the effort.
I’ve learned to love my morning routine and I now feel like I’m missing something when I don’t have time, energy or motivation to complete it. But my whole morning routine didn’t happen in one day. Or without drawbacks. The only reason I’m still doing it is because I’ve been nice to myself when falling off the wagon. I’ve stopped myself from allowing those self-depreciating comments and forced myself to get back to it. When I don’t manage to get my workout in in the morning, I’ll to a short stretching session while watching TV. If I don’t write in my journal in the morning, I’ll bring it with me all day so when I’m sitting somewhere waiting, or on a bus, I can do it. There’s always time to make up for missed opportunities. And if there’s no time today, there’s always tomorrow to get back up early and get moving.
Make a pledge right here and right now to stick to it for 30 days before quitting. Remembering that if you miss one day, it’s not a reason to miss two!
What habit do you want to build? Or what habit to you want to break?