21 days to create a habit is a popular misinterpretation of a study published in 1960. Like anything personal, the length of time to establish a habit depends on the individual. And how do you know when it’s a habit?
That’s what I’ve been asking myself as I hit the four-week mark on my two resolutions: to write 250 words as soon as I logged into my computer and to log out every night by 7pm. This is the time when I have to think about working on more resolutions. Had my current ones become habits? Did I need to wait, before adding on? Would I set myself up for failure if I moved too fast?
I’ve decided to start two new ones, but only because my first two now feel relatively easy. They were easy to start, easy to continue, and even easier to keep doing, since the habit autopilot is starting to engage.
I’ve spent a lot of time banging my head against the wall. If a goal didn’t work, I’d just try harder. Each and every time. Finally, the answer seems clear to me. It doesn’t work because it’s not attainable for me, given my personality and environment.
If I feel myself faltering in meeting my daily resolutions, I will have to step back and reassess. That’s key to setting any resolution – if it’s not working, don’t stick around to beat yourself up about it. Go back to the drawing board. It’s time to adjust downward, set some new cues, or just realize it is not the right resolution for you.
Yes, It Is About You
When I started working on my next set of resolutions, I got ambitious and thought I’d do three. One of them was that after lunch (and presumably a morning of writing), I’d make myself change into workout clothes. That was it. I would do that in the hope of actually working out, but it was not required. So I did a dry run this last week before I planned to implement the resolution.
I hated it and I resisted it.
My lunch time was not a reliable cue. I get up at 4am, so sometimes I’d have lunch at 10am or I’d be so focused on something that I’d put lunch off until 2pm. Sometimes I felt like going for a long walk before lunch, which negated the need for a set workout. I just couldn’t see how I’d be consistent and wanted a little fluidity in my day, so I crossed it off the list.
Resolutions that work are very personal – they’re defined by your goals, your everyday habits and schedule, how much time you have to work with, and what is tolerable to you. That’s really the key piece so many of us miss. We can’t copy what someone else does and expect the same results. Spending more time up front defining your resolution, doing some dry runs, and thinking about whether or not your resolution is something you could do on your worst, most busy, most tired, most depressing day is critical.
Building Blocks for the Next Resolutions
Since I’ve established the habit of writing 250 words as soon as I log into my computer, I’ve decided to build on that habit. As soon as I finish what I’ve come to call my daily journal entry, I will open a new document and write a 250 word scene in my novel. I’m at the computer, I’ve gotten warmed up – I am ready to do a little more work.
When I realized that much of my evening snacking was eliminated when I got off the computer at 7pm, it only highlighted a particularly bad habit. Being at the computer had become a cue for snacking. And it wasn’t just limited to my evening surfing. It was all day long. I’d been doing it for nearly 15 years – ever since I’d gotten a job where I had my own office. It is a deeply ingrained habit of mindless eating.
That helped to define my next resolution. I have resolved to only eat at the dining room table when I’m at home. This is going to be a tough resolution, but because it has a physical component – a change of venue, I suspect it will not be as hard as I imagine and that after the first couple weeks will be fine.
Getting Psyched Up
They’re small. Unimportant to anyone else. Your resolutions won’t change the world. But they’re important to you and it’s worth the effort to make them as enjoyable and attainable as possible.
For my first couple of resolutions, I set my computer up to open a blank page as soon as I logged in and set a musical alarm to remind me to log off at a specific time. I wrote the resolutions out on my white board, to include the list of immediate benefits. I’ve now updated my board to the second set:
Writing 250 words for my novel would do this for me:
- Create daily professional habit
- Make progress on novel
- Relieve psychological distress about not being done!
I quickly realized that if I opened up Scrivener to work on my novel, I would go straight into editing mode, so my workaround is to write or re-write a scene in a blank Word document for importing to Scrivener later. Taped to my computer is a note: NO A.M. EDITING, ONLY WRITING.
Dining at the table will do this for me:
- Bring more pleasure/mindfulness to eating
- Reduce calories
- Keep desk clean and professional
Above my desk, I’ve written in giant letters: DINE AT TABLE. WORK AT DESK. I also prettied up the table settings and deep-cleaned my study before my start date.
Yesterday was the first day. I’ll write a monthly follow up post as I continue to work through my resolutions. As always, a work-in-progress – one small step at a time.