Today I thought about habits. Why? Because I like to self-improve. Or find fault with myself, depending on your perspective. I certainly always have a to-do list with some potential self-improvement items at hand. I say potential, because most of the time they don’t materialize. At least not sustainably. This time will be different, though!
I don’t quite remember how I came up with it. I think it’s a mix of having read a lot about how to build habits. And a lot of experience trying it, managing it for a while, and then falling off the wagon again. And since I’m a keen observer of my own little charming idiocies I couldn’t help but notice that there is a system to the madness:
I usually start out with huge enthusiasm about a new self-improvement project of mine. But I also always put too much on my plate at once. And end up killing my enthusiasm by quickly turning my passion into a chore. You can read about my various attempts here or here.
So this time around I am trying a different approach, one that is in tune with the micro-step system I have recently established for my life goals, too. Did I mention I also like systems? Anyhow, the idea is as simple as it is intriguing:
I once read that we procrastinate or end up not doing things at all because our mind and body are inherently lazy. Whenever we try to change what they are used to, they tend to detect this straight away, join forces, and sabotage the change by making it feel totally undoable. Or, alternatively, offering lots of hard-to-resist distractions, like the comfort of the sofa in exchange for a run around the block.
The trick to work around this resistance is to create a task that is so minuscule, so ridiculously small that even good old mind and body can’t be bothered to object. Because in this case it’s actually easier for them to just get this little annoyance done and over with than to put together an elaborate counter-strategy.
Say, I want to take up my juicing habit again. It’s cold, and wet and I feel my body could benefit from some vitamins. I do have a perfectly good slow juicer in my kitchen. Only, it’s a pain to cut the fresh fruit and vegetable in the morning and it’s even more of a pain to clean the machine after juicing.
So the deal I made with myself is: I will juice every morning. And with “juicing” I don’t exactly mean juicing in the strict sense. (Did you just also hear that sigh of relief?) I don’t have to cut fruit or vegetable, if I don’t want to (Another sigh).
But I might want to throw some frozen fruit in the smoothie maker, add some water, and just drink this instead of a freshly squeezed juice. In fact, I might not even feel like doing that. So maybe I just want to cut some ginger and pour hot water over it and have this instead of a juice (Aaaah).
And wait up, I’m not done yet. Since habits are said to need about 30 days of uninterrupted practice I will do the habit of my choice, “juicing” for now, for 30 days in a row. I downloaded an app that doesn’t only look beautiful. It also happens to gently remind me of my “juicing” habit just at the time of the day when I tend to reach for my little coffee maker (never too lazy to do that).
Just in case I forget I also put a little sticker on my coffee maker. It reads something along the lines of: C’mon, you can do it! Followed by three mock check boxes of (1) juice, (2) smoothie, or (3) ginger tea. And a smiley. Just in case I start taking myself and my habit building attempts too seriously. As if I ever would…
The app also allows me to log my daily “done” and see a beautiful string of good habits build up over time. Did I mention that I’m also a sucker for challenges?
Wait up, there is still another layer: I have resolved to only do one habit at a time. Given that I always have a whole queue of new potential habits waiting for me. You remember. So no habit other than “juicing” for 3o days. And only if and when I have managed to do 30 in a row will I even think about allowing myself to add another habit.
You might think that I’m a little bit gaga and this all sounds a bit lunatic. But you know what? It actually works. Today I logged my seventh day of “juicing” in a row, including three actual juices. And that’s many more than I achieved in a long time of trying to re-start my juicing habit proper.
You see, I really have thought this through. Because the clue, as I recently learned by listening to James Clear, is to put as many steps as possible between yourself and your old bad habits. And as few steps as possible between yourself and your new good habit.
Isn’t it funny how our mind and body work? It’s so hard to do something against their will. And actually not that difficult to do it with them. They’re actually pretty nice fellas and cooperative once you accept they are just as lazy as you are. And you simply sneak in a half-habit which somehow, over time, might wind up becoming the actual thing.
Just don’t ask if I don’t mention juicing again.