How easy is it to create a new habit? That depends on the habit. Bad ones are a breeze and can develop without us noticing. Good ones, on the other hand, always seem to involve some discipline, effort or sacrifice – those not-so-magic words which can immediately put people off. This and subsequent posts will follow my own attempts to create a new habit, offering insights into the process so that you can see for yourself what happens, what is necessary, and what to look out for.
Firstly, decide what habit you want to create. (Maybe you ‘just’ want to stop a bad habit.) Take a closer look at who you are, and consider who you want to be. Understand that it might not be helpful to get too ambitious too early. It’s okay to dream big – and you should – but start small. It’s a long-term project (see ‘Give Yourself Two Years’ or ‘When It All Comes Together’), and there will be times along the way when you will definitely want to give up. Therefore, the easier you make it for yourself to begin with, the less likely you are to throw in the towel.
It has always been a goal of mine to create an early morning routine based on the blog post, ‘Write A Different Story’. The plan is to start at 5am and spend the first hour of my day going through a simple routine of exercise, meditation and writing.
Prepare yourself to begin. It starts before it even starts. Just thinking about the changes you are about to make will create a positive energy. Use that energy to fuel your effort and strengthen your resolve for when you want to give up.
I began three days ago. Four days ago I thought intensively about the following morning. The day had finally come when I was going to create the habit I have wanted for years. I even found myself getting a little excited about how it would feel. That excitement made it easier to get up when the time came. And when I was tempted, in the first few minutes, to go back to bed, the force of curiosity and desire I had created the previous day was all I needed to stay on my feet.
As part of your preparation, put procedures in place to smooth the way. Do whatever you can to make it easier for yourself. You are doing something you have probably not done before, so any insight you pick up along the way will help you.
One improvement I made for day two was to have a glass of water in place the night before so that I don’t have to waste time in the morning. That way I can get straight into the exercises. The sooner I begin, the sooner I come alive.
Anticipate the negativity, because it will come. Know that your mind will want to convince you not to change. Practice letting the negative thoughts go – mastering this will help you when you really need it. Tell yourself that you’ll learn more about life and yourself by making a start and persevering, than you will by listening to the undermining messages your mind is trying to give you.
On day three I awoke at 04:37 and my first thought was a question: ‘I have to do this every day?!!’ I already knew the answer so there was no internal dialogue. I lay there for a few more minutes before getting up.
Discipline. Find a way – and there is one – to enjoy the discipline of what you are doing. It’s a waste of a great quality otherwise. If you can discipline yourself, there is nothing you cannot do. See the new habit as a way to practise and fortify your discipline.
As I have written before, there are days when my daily exercise routine is more about the discipline that it is about the exercises.
Keep a record (as highlighted in ‘300 Days’). This is an elementary activity but an incredibly powerful one. It will motivate you to continue, and will show you at a glance how far you have come. It’s a marathon not a sprint, and the strength of any habit is in the number of tiny steps you make, not the great strides. If you can see those steps clearly, the whole thing becomes so much easier.