I’m not always fantastic at practicing what I teach.
For instance, a number of my classes have to do with modifying your own behavior (time management, giving feedback, verbal communication, how to not be a pain in the ass for everyone who reads your email, et cetera), so when I talk about what needs to change, I also talk about how to change that habit or, more to the point, how to make the change stick.
Changing a habit is always the hard part, after all, and it’s why people fail at things like ‘keeping the house clean’ or ‘saving money’ or my personal weak spot, ‘maintaining a healthy weight.’
Usually, this failure stems from one simple thing: none of those goals involve changing just one habit; they require changing a lot of habits and frankly people aren’t very good at changing a lot of habits at the same time. In order to make progress, you need to pick one habit out of the whole mess, and focus on that.
There are, in fact, steps.
1. Commitment. Commit yourself to a habit change, big time. Make your commitment as public as possible.
2. Practice. Changing your habits is a skill, and like any skill it takes practice. Commit yourself to a 30-day Challenge and try to do your new habit every single day for 30 days.
3. Tracking. It’s best if you log your progress every day. This will make your habit change much more likely to be successful.
4. Rewards. Reward yourself. Do so often, early on — every day for a week or so, then every three days, then the end of every week, and then at the end.
5. Focus. It’s hard to do more than one or two habits at a time — you can’t maintain focus.
This is basically what I tell people. I even coach them through it.
Sometimes, I make use of this for myself.
— I wanted to find the time to do at least a little creative writing every single day. This led me to the Adrift story, via twitter, which I’ve now written an entry on every day for the last three months. This simple fact makes me goofy-grin happy.
— I went a long while without blogging very regularly, and I wanted to change that, so I told myself I’d try to write a blog entry every single day in April. With the exception of this last Saturday, I succeeded, and I believe I can continue that habit. (I didn’t write every single blog entry for this blog, but I did always write one.)
Sometimes, I don’t do this for myself, when I should.
As I’ve already mentioned, one of my personal goblins is weight gain. I don’t gain weight fast by any means (I kind of wish it did, as the problem tends to creep up on me, unnoticed), but over the course of the last two years I’ve managed to put on roughly 1 pound a month. I’m nowhere NEAR as bad as I have ever been – my Medium shirts and some slacks have just gotten snug, but that’s it – but about two months ago I decided enough was enough.
So… it’s been two months. And I’ve put on two pounds.
I’m failing at this because I’m trying to re-institute all the habits I had two years ago – tracking my intake and daily exercise and all that – all at once. It goes for a couple days, and then it falls off my radar for a week. Not for lack of trying, but just because there’s too much “Habit” there to handle all at once.
So, here and now, I am getting a Habit going: During the month of May, I’m going to get back to tracking my food intake. As I have said before, paying attention to what you’re putting in your mouth is far and away the most important thing you can do for yourself, so I’m starting there.
1. Commitment. Well, this is about as Public as I can make this commitment. You can also expect me to add little addenda to my regular posts, mentioning my point totals for the day. (Or possibly tweets.) I use Weight Watchers (the online service – which I’ve been paying for and not really using for over a year). *shakes head*
2. Practice. As I said, every day in May. For June, I think I’ll … well… let’s keep that for June.
3. Tracking. This shouldn’t be a problem as “tracking myself” is actually the point of the whole project.
4. Rewards. I’m a little hazy on what I’m going to do for this, but I *think* what I am going to say is “no computer or TV after work until you log your points.”
5. Focus. I will worry about getting back to a regular exercise schedule until June, though I have some small hope that the points tracking will also remind me when I need to do a little something extra.
And that’s it. Is this an interesting post for you? I can’t say – in this case, it’s really all about me; taking that first step of commitment and aiming the giant whupping stick of PUBLIC FAILURE at my ass.
If nothing else, watching me slog through this process should carry a faint whiff of schadenfreude. Enjoy!