As we close in upon the New Year, you might be thinking about your resolutions.
One of the best ways to improve in your area of choice is to focus on building habits rather than always relying on sheer willpower.
For example, I used to eat ice cream every night. Then I decided to break that habit by replacing it with a new habit of not eating ice cream every night (why I did such a silly thing I have no idea).
So how do you build a new habit?
You actually do need to use sheer willpower to get yourself to do (or not do) something everyday for at least 2 weeks straight. It will be hard at first, but by the end of the first week, it will be getting easier, and by the end of the second week, you will have built a habit, or at least be getting close to having built one.
How do you know if you've succeeded?
If it's a subtractive action - for example removing ice cream from your daily routine - then you will be successful when you notice you no longer crave X or do X on autopilot. Rather, it will become a very conscious, deliberate thing (or treat in the case of ice cream).
If it's an additive action - for example journaling for 10 minutes each morning or always doing 20 pushups before you get in the shower - then you will be successful when you notice that you have started to crave your new behavior when you haven't done it, and you miss it when you skip it.
Us humans are good at rewiring our own brains when we want.
But change is always hard, and sometimes we need a little external help to update our existing habits.
Over time, artists, thinkers, and doers across disciplines have devised various tools and tricks to help motivate themselves to create the behavioral change they desired so that they could do better work.
One of the better known motivational tricks comes from Jerry Seinfeld, and it's become known as "Don't Break the Chain."
Long story short, Seinfeld decided that in order to get ahead in comedy, he wanted to write every single day. Here's how he motivated himself to establish this new habit:
"[Seinfeld] told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. 'After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.'
'Don't break the chain,' he said again for emphasis."
This is great advice. We're hardwired not to let people down, including ourselves, and it's a lot harder to let ourselves down when we have to literally look our failure in the eyes every morning when we see our broken chain on the wall.
The calendar method is problematic though. Calendars are designed for keeping track of dates and events, not tracking multiple habits. So if you just buy a regular old calendar, you can really only easily track one habit, like this:
So to solve that problem, I created a simple habit tracker that you can use in 2017 to build multiple new habits at a time. This is what it looks like:
That's my example, but you can fill it in with whatever you want (But I wouldn't recommend attempting more than 3 - 5 new habits at a time).
Notice each habit has the number of checks per week I am planning for. Remember that allowing yourself an off day or two every week from your new habit can help you adhere to your new plan in the long run.
So, are you ready to build a new habit or three?
If your answer is hell yes, then you can download a blank copy of my habit tracker, like the one below, right here.
You can use the digital version, but I recommend that you print one out and tape it to your wall.
To make that easier, I created both an 8.5 x 11 and an 11 x 17 version for you to download and print.
I hope you find this helpful, and I'd love to hear how you plan to use the habit tracker.
Peter Koehler's Writing Archive