The other day I had a bit of a revelation about creating habits. When you’re creating a habit, you need to let go of what you want the habit to achieve and just focus on the creation of the habit.
The habit itself is the outcome you’re working towards, and the measurement of your success is whether or not you’ve established the habit.
You may have heard of this technique before, it’s been taught by the guru of habit forming, Leo Babauta. But as with most things in life, it wasn’t until I had the revelation myself, that the concept finally made it past my head and into my heart.
I’ve been on a bit of a habit forming journey this year; I’ve read Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits website, and it’s there that I first learnt about the principle of making the habits you want to form, extremely small and simple. Leo talks about how he wanted to get into the habit of flossing his teeth everyday, so there were 5 steps to creating that habit:
- Link the desired habit to something that you already do. So in the case of flossing, use the habit of brushing your teeth as the trigger to then floss you teeth.
- Have a visual reminder – like put the floss beside your toothbrush or a post-it note on the bathroom mirror.
- Make it tiny. I mean super tiny. In Leo’s case it was flossing just one tooth. Just one tooth!
- Find the enjoyment in the habit – give yourself the good feelings of doing something that you know is good for you
- Mark it off on your habits list or calendar
You may have seen in previous posts that I have been using a habits checklist for the last couple of months, and it’s been really helpful in keeping me on track with the habits that I want to form. It shows me which habits I’ve taken on quite easily and been consistent with, and which habits I consistently forget (or consistently choose to forget. :-O)
I’m doing really well with some of the habits, like meditation and affirmations. But there are also some big gaps in my sheet… and one of those gaps is exercise.
I thought I already had the exercise portion pretty simple. For me, my exercise habit was just to go for a 20 minute walk everyday. I mean, I have plenty of opportunities:
- I can walk to work in 20 minutes – and that’s just dawdling, so it’s more like a leisurely stroll
- Ben and I often go for a walk each evening after work
But there have been plenty of excuses too. It was raining, I had an early morning meeting, I had heaps of work on, it was too cold, it was too hot, I was too tired, I couldn’t be bothered, I didn’t want to…
What are you trying to do? Create a habit, or get fit?
I had to remind myself of the purpose of putting exercise on my habits checklist, and the purpose of the whole checklist in the first place. Was it because I want to get fit? Well yes… but a habits checklist isn’t going to get me fit. I knew that the habits checklist would help me to make it a habit, and the HABIT is the thing that would get me fit!
Create the habit first!
I’m really sorry if it’s coming across as me yelling at you. I am yelling, but not at you. I’m yelling for the whole world to hear what has just dropped so clearly in my heart. That realisation that it’s about the habit. It always comes back to the habits.
I get worried that writing this stuff out won’t give you the ‘heart push’ that you sometimes need in order to make a change. Just like when you’re telling someone about the revelation you had, your voice gets raised, your cheeks are flushed and your eyes light up with animation… and the person listening can feel your excitement at telling the story. But unfortunately, that can also put some people off… since they don’t feel the emotion themselves it can just be irritating when someone keeps telling you how good something is rather than just getting to the point of the story.
That’s how I’m feeling at the moment. Like I’v had a big revelation and I’m trying to emotively get it across to you. And that’s why it may feel like I’m yelling.
So in order to create the habit first, I must make the action as small as possible, so that I can’t (and won’t) say no.
So in this case, the habit is to do 5 squats every day.
Can I say no to 5 squats?
Well, yes I can, but geez, I’d feel pretty stupid if I did.
5 squats can be done in my pyjamas, in my undies, heck they can even be done in high heels (or roller skates! I know, I’ve had to do them in skates before).
It doesn’t matter what the weather is doing, doesn’t matter if my house is a complete mess, doesn’t matter if I’ve just eaten a big meal or I’m starving or exhausted.
Doing 5 squats has no opportunity for excuses. (okay, okay maybe if I had some leg or back injury I wouldn’t be able to do them, but gosh, we can always modify the exercise. And the point is about creating the habit. And don’t jinx things, alright!)
I’m going to say this again because this is the part that kinda hit me in the head (multiple times… cos I didn’t get it at first)
Doing 5 squats isn’t going to get me fit. But, doing some exercise every day FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE is. I start with 5 squats and then build up the exercises. It may take a year or even a couple of years for me to be in the habit of exercising for 20 minutes every day, but it starts with 5 squats. Every. Day.
What if I never do more than 5 squats a day?
Do you think that an 80 year old woman who has been doing 5 squats every day for the last 40 years is going to be better off than an 80 year old woman who just sat on her arse most days?
Yeah, me too.
So that’s my tiny habit break through. I figured this out 10 days ago and I’ve only missed one day (cos I forgot! I forgot most things on my checklist that day. It was a jumbled, silly day).
I’m going to nail this habit. 5 squats at a time.
Have you had a revelation about the tiny habits? What tiny habit are you going to work on. Go on, share it with us. Is it one sit up? Is it to put away one piece of clothing? Is it to smile at your spouse once per day. Is it to write 5 words today? (You can steal that one! That’s also on my list, to write 5 words per day… cos I’m not doing very well at my goal of writing 200 words per day.)