I’m a big believer in habits now, but I’ve only come around to it recently. I started to see the power of it when I began working with dancers, and of course, like you, I’ve heard every self-help guru go on about habit-forming for years.
If you’re new to habit-chat, welcome! The basic idea is that you spend about three weeks doing something every day – whether that’s getting up earlier, resisting an unhealthy choice, reading before bed – whatever. Provided you don’t waver, after three or four weeks you will have a new way of being that’s much easier to stick to than it was when you started.
The hard part is getting past the first few days without giving up. Healthy habits are often less immediately fun than addictive ones, like nomming up drugs. But here are some things I’ve learned from my own experience, that seem to help:
- Take the element of choice out by making it the most normal thing you’ve ever done. Surround yourself, with people doing the same thing, or ask those around you to accept this as something you need to do for yourself.
- Make a load of other necessary (or at least highly-desirable) things depend on it. If it’s more weird or embarrassing or inconvenient NOT to do it, you’ll be likely to follow through.
- Contrary to a lot of the advice you’ll see, I think you only need one habit, and it doesn’t have to last forever. Let me explain…
This autumn, I did 30 days of yoga. It was only 10–20 minutes a day, and I missed a couple of days when I was travelling (but then I did double the next day, and didn’t beat myself up about it.) Towards the end of the month, I met up with a friend for coffee. Her face lit up when she saw me. She said:
“What have you been doing? You look like a dancer!”
An average of 15 minutes a day is not long, but it’s long enough for something to change. Maybe even enough for some of the people around you to pick up on. What’s that saying?
It takes a month for you to notice a change, eight weeks for your friends to notice, and 12 weeks for the rest of the world.
Well, I guess I have observant friends. After doing the 30 days of yoga, I kept it up until my house went out of action (long story) — but I will return to it! And having proven to myself I can do one thing every day, I took up another daily habit…
You’re reading it.
Yep, these posts are an example of a daily habit. They’re a commitment I know I can honour, because I’ve proved to myself, through the yoga, that I can do something every day regardless of my mood or commitments, and without any thought of the consequences.
One thing you don’t often hear about habits is that they are both a sign of confidence in yourself, and a brilliant way of developing that confidence. Every time you make good on your habit promise, you prove something to yourself, and that proof builds until you just become the kind of person who does the things they say they will, no big deal.
Honouring the commitment today is the only goal — tomorrow is future-you’s problem!
What’s one positive new daily habit you can commit to, today? It doesn’t have to last forever, but if it lasts for a month you’ll be in the habit of habits and will get the confidence to launch more.