Happiness, Leadership, Personal Growth, Self Esteem, Success

3 Key Elements to Forming a New Habit

Writing makes me feel good and that I enjoy it, yet I have a worry that I might let it go or stop or lose the habit one of these days and give up when I need to stay going. Often in life I feel like I’m just surviving, going from one day to the next, trying to improve my life and get on to the path I want to be on.

I’m always looking for the key, looking for what was missing in my life but never getting there. I knew I had a story I wanted to write. I’ve had this idea for a book for years but never got down to writing it. As I’ve mentioned before here I started many times and didn’t succeed. Always trying to find the right answer, the right strategy.

Paths to Success… or not!

I’ve tried many strategies but they never worked out for me (or perhaps I should say I never worked out for them…). It’s very frustrating when that happens. The one thing I’ve always felt was that I could get no consistency in my work or my life. Someone said to me yesterday that human beings need routine. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, I’ve always felt I wanted an unroutine life, but I think that you need some kind of consistency to get anywhere.

Even if you want to be unorthodox, you still have to be consistently unorthodox! You still have to do something to be that way. My life always felt like trying to climb out of a pit. I’d come up with an escape strategy, I’d climb up a bit, then I’d slip back down again. I’d stay at the bottom for a while wondering was I going to ever get out of this hole I’d created for myself, then I’d come up with another idea and try again…and so on.

Forming the habit, a piece at a time

I decided to try to form the writing habit by writing 200 words per day in my book. When that was successful I gradually increased the number. I’m now at 500 words, and in the past two months I completed the first draft of my book. In ways it feels like the first thing I ever completed in my life. I also started journaling 750 words per day minimum. I’ve done a month of that. I’ve also started writing articles for this blog. I write one article per day draft, or a minimum of 10 minutes editing.

Each of these has been a success. One might say the numbers are small but they’re growing every few weeks, and they’re consistent, and that consistency, that thing of doing something small every day without fail has seen me succeed in my life where I never could before. The small seemingly meaningless step each and every day brings me closer to inevitable success. The word inevitable is important there, because every other strategy I tried was about hopeful success. I’ve found that by taking that definite step every day means you will succeed. It might not be the magic solution everyone is looking for these days, but believe me when you succeed by doing this it will feel like magic.

Habit Phrasing

One thing I’ve found on this journey that interested me is the phrasing of the habits is important. The above three habits are my successful ones. I decided to create habits in other areas of my life also to improve every area of life just like the creative area was improved. I’ve experimented with setting habits to improve my business. I set a habit to do one thing everyday in my business that felt like a success to me. So far I’m failing at this. Why?

The reason is that this habit isn’t specific. All of my writing habits have specific goals (500 words, 10 minutes, etc). No matter what time it was or how tired I was I could always just do that, because I knew without thinking exactly what I had to do. Then there’s the other habit of trying to do one successful thing for my business. That’s not specific. Everyday I have to come up with what that one thing is. I can’t just do it without thinking about it.

You can’t ‘Not’ do Something

I think that’s one of the keys to developing a successful habit. It has to be a small step you can take everyday without even having to think about it. You have to know instinctively (or have planned in advance) what to do next. Why is giving up smoking hard? You can’t ‘not’ have a cigarette. You have to do the opposite of that. There’s no obvious next step to giving up smoking. There’s no positive little step to take forward.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far in habit forming is to have an easy, positive step I can take each and every day without fail. By positive I don’t mean happy, I mean it is a step forward in your life, a step toward something. So writing 500 words is a step forward, but ‘not’ having a cigarette isn’t a step forward, it’s negative, it’s avoiding taking a step backward. Perhaps a better way would be to take a step toward health each day. Maybe that’s ridiculous. I don’t know.

To sum up:

The habit should be:

  • toward a goal or desire that’s far off in the future (This is non specific – Being healthy / being a writer)
  • a simple easy positive (and obvious) step you can take everyday without having to think about it (This is specific – 200 words)
  • something you can feel good about.

The great thing about habit forming is not the end result, but rather the feeling that everyday you’re accomplishing something. Everyday you’re moving toward something. To me that’s the difference between just surviving life and living it.

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