By Rebecca A. Watson
Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.—Confucius
Recently, a friend in my 30 Day Challenge group brought up a really interesting point. “Have you noticed” he asked, “that it’s far easier to remove something or limit something from your life than it is to add to it?”
It gave me pause. Every challenge I seemed to excel at had something to do with deprivation. I’d quit caffeine. I’d stopped eating gluten. My media fast was pretty successful as well, but what I’d had trouble with was reading something every day for myself.
I took it as a challenge. I have all sorts of good habits that I cultivated in my adult life: daily journaling, exercise, cooking. How did I add these to my life? And what lessons can I apply to creating a new good habit?
1. Decide that it’s important to you
This is a critical and important first step to creating a new habit in your life. You can’t just sort-of want to learn to play the guitar and expect to be strumming new songs a week later. You have to be committed.
When I first started journaling every morning, there were times I didn’t think I could do it. I woke up late, had other work to do or just really didn’t feel like putting pen to paper. I’d remind myself that I’d made a commitment to myself, that somewhere along the line I thought it was that important.
A good way to do this, especially if you’re a visual person, is to create a list of all the reasons you think it’s important to have this new habit in your life. Decorate it. Make it pretty. Now put it in a place where you’ll see it every day: your bathroom mirror, your car dashboard, on your refrigerator.
This will serve to remind you of your commitment regardless of the time, whether you’re challenged or not. After a while, you’ll internalize it and you won’t need to remind yourself. After the first few months, it’s not even a question of whether I’m going to journal or if I have enough time. Those pages are written every morning.
2. Tell People
It might seem a little weird at first, or awkward. How do you bring up your decision to take up interpretive dance with your friends? Sometimes it’s easy and will come up naturally in a conversation. Perhaps you’re walking by the studio. Other times it’s not so smooth, but just come out and say it.
And keep telling people. The more you identify with your new habit, the more it becomes a part of you. Also, when you tell other people about your commitments, they become more difficult to wiggle out of. It keeps you accountable.
When I first started exercising, I was one of those people who talked about my workout every day. I was never the active type, so it felt weird, but after a little while it became part of who I was. Plus, my coworkers asked me every morning, “How was the gym?” so I felt like I had to go.
A bonus to all this talking about your new undertaking? You might inspire people to try something new as well. Or to join you in your endeavor.
3. Enlist Help
When you’re starting something new, it’s always good to have someone around you can ask for advice. I learned to knit from a knitwear designer; she could always answer questions I had about patterns I was working on.
Getting help doesn’t need to be from an actual face-to-face. Check out your library for books on your new habit. Maybe there are some instructional DVDs. And the Internet has blessed us with so many tools. Tools like forums for your subject matter and online videos. YouTube tutorials have saved me when I had knitting questions at ungodly hours of the night.
When it comes to learning or trying something new, we’re all going to struggle a bit at first, whether it’s with motivation or just developing the skillset. Don’t hold all those questions in. Ask someone. Find an answer.
One of the coolest parts about asking for help when it comes to learning something new is that it’s sort of burned into your brain afterward. It’s like the best way to get better at something is to run into a problem you have to solve.
4. Make it a Routine
As a person who is a big fan of spontaneity, take it from me, routine isn’t my favorite thing, but it’s not all bad either. It’s how habits are formed. Choose to do your new activity every day at the same time if possible.
For me, morning seems to be my best friend. I’ve heard it’s also when we humans have the most willpower, so it may work out for you as well. But some of us are night owls and do our best in the wee hours.
Just find the time that works for you and stick with it. If you’ve carved out a time slot for something, you’re much more likely to do it than if you just aim to do it at some point in the day.
5. Stick with It
You can’t create a habit unless you keep doing it repeatedly over time. It’s the definition of a habit, right? Commit to doing your new activity for a certain length of time.
I’ve heard research shows it takes 21 days to make a habit. I don’t know if I think it’s completely accurate or not, but regardless, it’s something to shoot for. Personally, I’m a fan of the 30-day challenge.
Remember, you don’t have to do something every day. You could have a weekly hiking club you meet up with. But if that’s the case, make sure you allow yourself more time to develop the habit.
6. Be Kind to Yourself
Don’t get bummed out if something didn’t stick or your daily workout turned into a weekly thing. At least you tried, which is more than many people can say. If it’s really important to you, keep trying. Although you’re giving yourself a time limit, it’s really your personal guideline that you can move as you desire.
I thought I was surely going to be a stand-up paddleboard guru after my first lesson. Turns out, the cons outweighed the pros for me. That’s OK; someone else will happily take my spot on the water.
We’re all fragile when we’re learning something new, even the best of us who seem to crave constructive criticism. Don’t be too hard on yourself and remember: There are loads of new things you can learn and try on this planet. You’ll probably never run out of chances.
It’s the end of the month, and I’ve used these lessons to spend at least ten minutes in stillness every day. I think next month I might start taking guitar lessons.
Developing a new good habit isn’t such a tough thing after all.
Rebecca Watson is a Truth Advocate and Soul Connection Coach who supports women who’ve dealt with trauma and abuse to find and express their truth in harmony with their soul. A recovering journalist, Rebecca uses journaling and writing as a tool to teach women who feel unheard, broken, and misunderstood to listen to their own truth, trust their instincts, and connect with the divine part of themselves. You can read more of her work and learn more about her coaching programs at sunnysanguinity.com.