When to keep or discard habits

This post is answering a reader question from my recent survey. You can see more of my answers to reader questions here.

I love this question as it is something I haven’t really touched on before:

The habits that you implemented into your life during the ‘planned and present’ year, did you keep these throughout your ‘calm and creativity’ year, or discard any that didn’t fit your new goal, or build on them to achieve the next goal? And one more (sorry!) – how do you decide your goal?

If you are new to the blog, I will give some background information to put this question into context. In 2015 I set myself for the first time a single goal. Prior to that I would set multiple goals each year and very often set too many and ended up overwhelming myself.

It took a very challenging year in 2014 for me to reassess how I goal set and what I expected of myself. It was the best thing I could have done. If you had a challenging year in 2016 please take heart. Challenging years can teach us a great deal. I took away many lessons from 2014 which have helped significantly improve my life now.

So how do I decide on my single goal? I follow a process which starts firstly with a review of the year before. You can only learn from your year if you take the time to review it, work out what worked and what didn’t. You can see my review of 2016 in this post – Yearly review 2016 – contentment in the calm.

It is never too late to do a review. While I do my goal setting based on a calendar year, it is just an arbitrary date. You can do it anytime and you can look back over a varying period, it could be six months rather than one year. My recommendation is to keep the time frame consistent to give yourself boundaries and dates to work within.

I ask myself these five questions in my review:

  • What were your successes?
  • What didn’t work out?
  • What made you happy?
  • What made you unhappy?
  • What did you want to do more of?

I then follow the rest of the steps in this process to set my goal and the habits I will create to help me achieve my goal. Habits are absolutely the key to me achieving my goal for the year.

Habits work because they take the thinking out of the minutia of the everyday activities you have to do. Scientists generally believe habits emerge because the brain is always looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often.

How the brain does this is through what author Charles Duhigg describes as The Habit Loop:

This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical, mental or emotional. Finally, there is the reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

Keeping and discarding habits

The reason why I focus on habits to help me achieve my goals, is that as explained above, once they are established, they aren’t something I have to think too much about. This means they become embedded in my every day. Some habits are easier than others and some stick better than others. As a general rule, my approach is to keep on with the positive habits I create each year and build more positive habits in the new year.

There is some natural attrition of habits that I didn’t quite grasp or are no longer important to me. To explain this further, I will go through the habits I have focused on over the last two years and share where I am at with them:

2015 HabitsConnection to goalPost 2015
Be in bed before 10pm each nightIf I am tired, I lose my patience and when very tired I tend to vague out and am not fully present with the kids.This is still a habit I aim to keep. Do not achieve it 100% of the time, but it is something I strive for.

Sleep was paramount to me staying calm in 2016 so I needed to still focus on this.
Eat and a varied wholefood dietI need to eat well to maintain my health and energy levels.This is a deep set habit for me and something I don't really have to think about, I just do it.
Maintain a regular fitness and exercise routineExercising is where I get some time on my own and this helps me come back to the family feeling mentally refreshed.This is a deep set habit for me and something I don't really have to think about, I just do it.
Practice gratitude dailyI want to work on improving my overall attitude as this affects how I interact with the kids. I have much to be grateful and need to remind myself of this.I use my daily gratitude app each day.

Practicing gratitude helped me with my not complaining habit in 2016.
Pause and think before I speakI talk fast and a lot. Sometimes less would be better and more thought put into my words so they have a positive impact on my kids.Not something I focused on in 2016.
Make only positive statements (no complaining)Towards the end of 2014 I found I was complaining a lot. I want to turn that around. This doesn't mean I accept poor behaviour or mess or have to love everything my kids do, but I need to find better ways to express how I feel about it.Refined this habit in 2016 to be my consecutive days of not complaining.
Expect good things from my childrenYou find what you look for. If I am waiting for my kids to do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing, then that is most likely what I will find. While they will never be perfect, I need to not be focusing on their mistakes and misdemeanours.Not something I focused on in 2016, but the not complaining focus took a similar approach.
2016 HabitsConnection to goalPost 2016
37 pieces of clothing per season
Decision fatigue is a real thing - less clothes to choose from will free up mental energy! I am going to simplify my wardrobe to make choosing what to wear easier and having less items in my wardrobe will give me back needed physical space. I love this approach to my wardrobe and will continue this again this year.

You can see exactly how I do this in this post How to simplify your wardrobe
33 consecutive complaint free daysComplaining spreads negativity and I have so much to be grateful for. It is hard to be calm or creative when your mind is full of negativity. I have half heartedly worked on complaining less before, but to become a habit I need to track and measure it.I will still track my progress with this. I slip up too often on this habit and I want to be more consistent with it. Tracking helps it be top of mind and improves consistency.

You can see how I track my habits in this post Why tracking your habits works
33 consecutive days of meditationI have dabbled a little with meditation and it makes a huge difference to the noise in my head. It makes me feel calmer, but I am yet to do this regularly. Doing so will help create an inner calm in my life regardless of the chaos around me.This is now part of my daily routine and I will continue with it in 2017.

You can see how I developed my meditation practice in this post Monthly review – building a meditation habit
33 items decluttered from the house each weekOn the surface our house looks relatively clutter free, but there are over flowing cupboards and drawers. Decluttering will give me a greater feeling of space and calm.This habit wasn't something I could develop in this format. I found that decluttering one project at a time worked better for me.

I will be continue a project based approach to decluttering in 2017. We have the biggest project slotted for January - our attic!
3 hours a week for creativityTime for creativity never made it to the top of my to do list as I didn't give it the value it deserved. If you want something to happen you have to schedule it. This was a challenging habit for many reasons. I won't be following this in 2017 like I did in 2016, but I will still spend time on creative pursuits through out the year.

As you can see, the majority of habits are still a part of my every day life. While it may seem like a lot of work to keep adding new habits each year it isn’t really. Habits once established become something you do without really thinking about it – it is just what you do.

The habits I am wanting to establish for 2017 are a little daunting for me. Some are taking me out of my comfort zone and with others if I don’t manage them well they could see me over loading myself.

But I like challenges and I think if I can get these habits right, they will bring me great joy and an increased sense of connection to those I love – which is pretty exciting!

Want to establish positive habits in your life?

The changes I have made to the way I approach family life over the last two years has had a huge impact on my happiness and the harmony of our family life.  So much of the success has been based around formation of positive habits and I teach how to do this in my e-course Planned + Present.

Planned + Present is a seven week e-course to take you from feeling our of control and overwhelmed to feeling planned and present. It is a step-by-step guide on how to organise the chaos of family life while still leaving space to enjoy it.

With the drive of wanting to be organised it can be easy to forget why we want to be organised – to be able to spend more time enjoying our family. The course teaches you how to establish plans and processes for those repetitive tasks of family life, allowing you to be more effective and efficient with your time, so you can be more present with your family.

Planned and Present includes seven in-depth lessons, for you to work through. And with lifetime access to the course, it’s okay if you fall behind.

To find out more about Planned & Present and sign up for the course head here – Planned & Present.