We often make excuses for our habits. We say we cannot help ourselves because “it’s just a habit I have.” While I would beg to differ, I still must admit that habits be a powerful force to reckon with. When a thought or action is woven seamlessly into the very fabric of your daily life, tearing is very difficult. We do these things without thinking, so it is challenging to remember to think not to do them.
Like so many aspects of this life, this negative has a certain silver lining. Why not use the ease with which habits allow us to repeatedly do things for good? Lately I’ve been working on developing positive habits. Just like negative things that you time after time find yourself doing, so to can you weave constructive sections into your daily routines. Why not set all those things you want to do, but have trouble remembering to do on “automatic”? Or what about the things you are always procrastinating about—wouldn’t it be easier if you just did them without thinking? “I just can’t help myself; it’s habit. . . I always go for a run first thing when I wake up in the morning.”
As a piano teacher, one thing I find myself telling students (and their parents) time and time again is, “You should practice *every day,* even if it’s only for five minutes. Not just because I want you to be that dedicated, or because I’m worried you’ll forget everything, but because it will actually be *easier* for you to practice every day than it would be to practice most days. If you practice every single day, you will be in the habit of it. You won’t have to think about it. You won’t forget. You won’t be so inclined to put it off—since you know that it is ultimately going to have to happen anyway (so you might as well just do it now).” That is to say: it’s easier to do things every day than “often.”
Another little thing I tell my students about practicing is this: “It will be easier to remember to practice each day if you practice at the same time every day.” Creating a routine makes habits stick better. It gives them something to “stick” to. I often suggest that they practice their music immediately after something that they already do on a daily basis, such as: coming home from school, eating dinner, or perhaps doing their homework.
Several months ago, I decided to start a new habit: a habit of developing good habits. Since that time, I have added a new habit each month, and worked on that habit consistently for the entire month. When I started doing this, I planned that if any habit hadn’t stuck by the end of its month, then I would continue to work on it for longer, before trying to add a new habit. However, that has not yet happened. So far, each month, I’ve been able to very consistently act according to the new habit that I was working on, and by the end of the month, do the activity on schedule without much thought.
Some habits I’ve recently developed include:
- Eating three meals a day, without any snacking in between
Over the past couple years, I’d developed quite a bad habit of snacking. I’d eat when I was bored, I’d eat when I was stressed, I’d eat when I was sad, I’d eat when I was happy… Like a smoker, comforted by the hand-to-mouth motion of his cigarette, so was I comforted by the food-to-mouth habit. While my fast metabolism was mostly able to keep up, it definitely wasn’t a healthy habit, and, at the very least was wasteful of resources [I was being a bad steward] because I was eating *way* more than I needed to subsist healthfully on. [Would you believe 3k – 5k Calories/day…? Yeah, a 100lb girl definitely does not need that much.]
- Eliminating grains, dairy, and processed sugar from my diet
I’ve known for some time that I have a fairly serious allergy/intolerance to dairy and sugar, but (like many Americans), I’m rather quite fond of those things. In addition, for reasons I don’t fully understand, eating grains (especially wheat), tends to provoke cravings for such things [as sugar & dairy]. A few months ago, I finally kicked this bad habit, and replaced it with a diet of healthy, whole foods.
- Daily Bible reading
This was actually the very first habit I started of this group. Back when DS was born in January of this year, I committed to reading a section of the Bible (3-5 chapters), each morning first thing. It was my hope that we’d make it through the entire Bible before DS turned 1 year old. I think we are going to make it! Today is the first of December, and we are mid-way through the book of Acts. We are a little behind, but definitely not more that we could easily catch up. It is possible that we will end up reading a few epistles and Revelations on New Years’ Eve.
- Kettlebell swings (75 reps, three times weekly)
Prior to the current hype around this particular exercise, I read Tim Ferriss’ “The 4-hour Body,” in which he recommends a regimen of two handed kettlebell swings, Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 75 reps, first thing in the morning, with as heavy of a kettlebell as you can handle. I started this routine about two months ago. Initially I was swinging a 16lb kettlebell. It was fortunate, however, that I bought an adjustable one, because at this point, I’m up to 36lbs. A substantial increase, if I do say so myself. I’ve definitely lost a few inches around my waist, and feel significantly stronger as well.
This month I’m starting a new habit of writing on a daily basis. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about being more of a creator and less of a consumer. I’d like to contribute more to the conversation that is life. I’d like to make new friends. In the best kind of way, I’d like to be a little bit famous. Not in a “glory for me” kind of way; more like: people know me for me, and for what I do. They know of me because I put myself out there to be known. They know me because I want to be known and I want to know them. I want to help them and I want to share all the interesting things I learn on a daily basis.
Writing seems like the simplest medium with which to create (at least for me). Not to say I’m talented at it, but it’s convenient. I can write anywhere, with a variety of tools, and about anything I’m thinking about, feeling, or learning. So I will write—every single day, for at least a month. I’m planning to alternate between writing pieces for the blog and writing entries in my journal, but that won’t be a rule. I’ll write what I feel like writing, where I feel like writing it. When I have the opportunity, I’ll do it first thing in the morning. Otherwise I’ll do it last think at night. I won’t go to sleep any evening without at least putting down a few paragraphs. At the end of the month, I will evaluate and determine whether this is a habit I wish to continue, and for how long. I sincerely hope that at least a few people benefit from some of the things I will share over the next month.