A phrase I repeat most often when I am coaching women on habit formation is to start small and build upon your successes.
So often with enthusiasm, excitement, and a will for change, we set ourselves very challenging standards for the habits we want to introduce into our lives. While this can sometimes work, the majority of times it doesn’t and looks more like this:
- We set parameters for our habits that are too much for our starting point. For example wanted to go from no exercise to exercising for an hour a day, five days a week.
- We start off well, hitting five days the first week but then it starts to get a little hard and we only make it three days the next week.
- We start the third week with a sense of dread not knowing how we are going to fit our sessions in and the thought of exercising begins to weigh heavily on us. We fit two sessions in for the week.
- By the start of week four we are down on ourselves and run a narrative in our head about how we cannot stick to a plan, we are not exercisers and have failed. With this negativity swirling around us we don’t have the mindset to even do one exercise session.
This scenario would look very different if the habit was more realistic for our starting position. If we are not exercising at all, setting parameters along the lines of 3 x 20-minute sessions a week is much more realistic. Women I coach will often push back when I suggest this saying but that isn’t enough, that is only one hour a week.
I remind them that the starting point doesn’t have to be the end point. Establish this habit for a month and then build it from there if you feel that it is the next right step. You are much more likely to hit those 3 x 20-minutes sessions each week and more importantly, you are going to start building the picture of yourself of someone who sets a plan and follows it, of someone who exercises regularly and someone who has achieved something positive in their life.
I now exercise six days a week and have days with multiple sessions but I started with three single session days a week. I built it up over time and it wasn’t a month or two, it took a number of years to get to this point. Starting small and building is the sustainable way to introduce habits into your life.
My habit of practicing gratitude had dropped off last year, so for my habits of focus for this year to help me achieve my goal, I added writing in a gratitude journal daily. I kept my parameters for this very small – all I needed to do was write three dot points each day expressing things I was grateful for. I didn’t manage it for every single day of this year but it would be in the ballpark of 90-95% of days which I am very happy with.
I now look forward to writing my notes and think I have this habit so well set up that I can actually build on it for next year and add some more depth to what I write.
|Habit||Connection to goal - Do the inner work to be able to give more to those around me.||Quote - “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” - Carl Jung||November Review|
|Meditate in the morning for at least 20 minutes||I have been meditating for a number of years now, but lately it is often left to the end of the day and I listen to a guided meditation before I go to sleep.|
To reap the real benefits of meditation I want to practice in the first half of the day, non guided and for a minimum of 20 minutes. In this time emotions, feelings and issues will come up and I will need to learn to not react to it, simply observe it and focus on the meditation session.
|“The more regularly and the more deeply you meditate, the sooner you will find yourself acting always from a center of peace.” - J. Donald Walters||I have continued on with 10 minutes during the day and a guided meditation at night as well.
|Participate in a weekly faith based activity||I have a strong personal faith but feel that it needs a recharge and refresh. Immersing myself in more faith based activities will help me achieve this and to examine my spirituality at a deeper level.||“Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking.” - Khalil Gibran||This has been a surprisingly strong habit for me this year and was probably one that I was most unsure about of at the start.
The key has been that it has actually had two elements - a short daily practice and then for the last couple of months an external weekly commitment.
|Write in a gratitude journal daily||For some reason I stopped my gratitude journal process in the latter half of 2020 and I have noticed its absence. Part of my journal entry in the evening is to note down how I could have made the day even better. Reflecting each day on how I can improve is an important part of doing the inner work.||“Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.” - Christina Baldwin||I think the key to being so consistent with this habit is that it is actually a really small action I have to take. It is simply writing down three things a day that I am grateful for.
I would love to build on this habit so it is a bit more than three dot points but even this small I still find it adds a hugely positive element to my life. A very important lesson I have learnt about habit formation over the years is to start small and build on it. So I will look to build on this next year.
|Learn and speak Phil's love language well and daily||I read The 5 Love Languages® by Dr. Gary Chapman a few years ago and loved the concept. For some reason I never got Phil to do the quiz and work out his love language. I will re-read the book and get us both to do the quiz .|
I will then focus on making sure I am speaking Phil's love language on a daily basis.
|“Love is a choice you make everyday.” - Gary Chapman||I have become much better at finding the right moments to ask questions and when I just need to listen. This is something that I still can become better at and I will keep working on it as I can know how beneficial it is.