Last weekend I read an article on Fast Company entitled How I Became A Morning Person, Read More Books, And Learned A Language In A Year. It fueled the internal conversations I’d been having with myself about productivity, spending down time & the practice of good habits.
Last year when I turned 30 I was feeling better than I had in recent memory. I was working out more. Fueling my body and not just feeding it. Seeking out experiences that had me feeling better (whether that was Soulcycle or a green juice or just good conversation with a friend.) But with the start of 2016, I was feeling more acutely aware of some chronic health issues I had battled over the years which included headaches, anxiety & sleep problems.
When someone recommended an acupuncturist they had been seeing that they found to be “life changing” I decided to seek further information and I booked myself an appointment. Acupuncture has long been thought to treat so many different ailments and in fact I had tried it back in high school after my chronic headaches were diagnosed but at the time unfortunately I did not have any success with the treatments.
I tell you this background as the acupuncturist has recommended I keep a food log (a habit) and do a ten minute back stretch on the floor every night (a habit.) So when I read the article on Fast Company about creating good habits it got me to thinking about the habits I’ve long wanted to have and those habits I’m already good at. (I’m going to have another post about the acupuncturist at a later date in case any of you are curious…)
You see, the author of the article points out that habits are often created when we like the reward of something. So brushing your teeth = the reward equals less trips to the dentist (which no one likes). Taking your daily medicine = the reward equals not feeling worse than you could. Buying your daily coffee = the reward equals a feeling of being awake and ready to seize the day. Buying flowers on the weekend = the reward equals having beautiful things to look at all week.
You get the point.
But I’ve long struggled with making additional habits that I want to have. I would love to read more (I have a long list of books already downloaded and waiting for me on my iPad.) I would love to stretch more (I feel so accomplished once I do!) I would love to be better about putting things away after I use them (I’m getting better!) I, like the author, would love to get back to learning French.
I think there’s something to be said for the reward equaling immediate joy or satisfaction. You see if you get joy out of doing something, you’re more apt to repeat it. The feeling is usually instantaneous (such as my habit of buying flowers for the weekend.) But a feeling of satisfaction almost makes you feel like “ok, I did it. But I wish I didn’t have to” in many cases. It’s more fulfillment-driven than happiness-driven, if that makes sense. But take my desire to stretch more. I hate the task of it. I feel “ok” after I’ve done it but by the next day…that’s when the residual joy or happiness rolls in. But it’s because that feeling is delayed, I am less apt to take it on regularly.
So a few practices to live by when it comes to habit formation that I thought I’d share…(as noted in the FC article but also some tricks I’ve found that work for me personally.)
- Tackle one habit at a time. Don’t overload yourself trying to change too many things at once.
- Start small! Like the article states, if you want to read more…start with one page a night.
- Find friends to practice the habit with. You’re more likely to be successful if you have someone to help you remember what you’re attempting.
- Schedule habits to start out with if you need to. (I do this with exercising by blocking out nights on my calendar so I don’t make other plans).
- Give yourself visual cues. This is a big one for me. I wouldn’t ever remember eye cream unless it was out in my bathroom.
- Take notes. I like the idea of giving yourself a physical box to check when you’ve accomplished something. It makes it feel more rewarding. So mark a calendar every time you’ve successfully completed the habit you’re trying to form. (And remember that habits generally take months to form.)
- Substitute bad habits for good ones. You make time for plenty of bad habits (constant Netflix binges, social media addiction) so swap out some of the time you spend on those things and “give it up” to the practice of forming a good habit. Take 30 minutes of a Netflix show and read instead.
There you have it. Slowly but surely we can all create better habits together. The first one I’m going to seek out? I’m going to take some of the time before bed I spend wasting scrolling through Instagram or clearing out my Snapchat cache to read a few pages before I go to bed. It’s time I put those highly recommended books to good use!
Do you have any good habits? I’d love to hear about them (+ any advice you may have on how you got there!)