12 Months, 12 Habits

Ah, the new year. So full of promise, so full of hope, so full of dreams and aspirations.

Or, if you’re cynical like me: ah, the new year. Two steps forward, four steps back. Now, where’s the pie?

This year, however, I’m putting my cynicism aside and embracing the attitude I used to roll my eyes at (okay, granted, I still do: but I’m rolling my eyes at myself now, so it’s better.) This year I must change. It’s got to happen. The past few years have felt like I’ve been walking around in a fog, and although I know what steps I’ve needed to take to change that: I haven’t. No more.

Although I know that timing is arbitrary: if you really want change, you’ll do it regardless of the date on the calendar; I’m going to allow myself, just this once, to get caught up in the rising tide of enthusiasm. We’ll see if my skepticism has been misplaced all these years. My cynicism surrounding New Year’s resolutions has gotten me precisely nowhere so far, so we shall see.

This year, I’m planning on forming 12 new habits. After a good amount of thought, I’ve decided that I only know the one I want to start with. The others, I feel, will reveal themselves as time goes on.

#12habits

12 months, 12 habits. There’s just one problem though: despite the fanfare, 21 days, or 30 days (let’s just round it up, shall we?) isn’t the average amount of time it takes for someone to form a new habit. It’s the minimum amount. Which means that, if you only give yourself a month to build a new habit, it’s less likely to stick than if you give yourself two months. And yet, I persist in my habit-a-month plan.

I think I’ve figured out the trick to getting the minimum amount of time to work for you.

Make them compoundable.

Each habit feeds the next. For example, my first habit will be waking up at 4:30am with Caleb every day. For those who read the first iteration of my blog, you already know that I tried this already (and clearly failed.) What I realized from this experience is that I didn’t have anything to really do when I woke up, aside from drinking all the coffee and bugging Caleb, who up until my harebrained scheme enjoyed the solitude of the early mornings (sorry dear.)

To combat this, I’m going to be staggering habits, letting each new monthly habit springboard off of the last... and reinforce it, too. So, for example, if my first habit is waking up early, my second habit will be doing yoga every morning to get the blood flowing, which in turn makes me more likely to stay awake. And so on so forth. For the month of January, I’m going to try multiple things that I’d like to turn into daily habits—meditation, exercise, journaling, etc., and see which would make the most sense to accomplish first thing in the morning. Once I’ve figured it out, I’ll spend the month of February getting the chosen habit to stick.

Don’t wallow in failure.

When I fail at something, I fail hard. I double down on it. I’m the type of person who, upon a single failure, will throw up her hands and decide to hell with it, scrap it all. Square one to me is more frightening than, say, never changing, never improving at anything at all. Once you dig yourself into a rut, you can find that it’s quite comfortable indeed.

In the past (like the first time I tried waking up early,) if I fell asleep after waking up with my alarm, I would write off the whole day or week as a complete failure and have no motivation to try again the next day. It’s the brain’s way of fending off your pesky aspirations so that it can sleep more. It’s a tricky devil, but now I know. So, when I do fall back asleep sometime this month (judging by past experience, it’s more likely than not,) I won’t roll over and write off the whole day. I’ll be putting my feet on the floor and calling that a win.

Seek motivation.

I find it hard to rally myself. Still harder to gather people around me to cheer me on. So no, I’m not starting a fan club—so sorry to disappoint. I will, however, be keeping myself motivated by blogging my experience, and listening to other people’s experiences. Listening to relevant podcasts (like The Minimalists most recent episode) is something I’ve found to be extremely helpful.

But don’t get stuck.

I’ve also found it too easy to circle around to the same thing over and over again. I’m unsatisfied enough with my life to listen to or watch motivational podcasts or Youtube videos, but not enough to take the lessons I learn to heart and use them to improve myself. You can watch all the Gary Vee you want, but if you change nothing, all you’re doing is desensitizing yourself to outside motivation. Forget inner motivation. I’m familiar with this loop; it’s been my main weakness for about a year or so.

But at some point, you have to stop gearing yourself up to doing something, and actually accomplish the thing you’ve set out to do. If you don’t, then you won’t. It’s that simple.

Move on from motivation.

Writing this is kind of an exercise in cultivating that mindset—I’m notorious for settling for writer’s block. I say settling because my attitude has always been: “Oh, well, it’ll come around. I’ll be inspired again, and then I’ll write.”

No one who goes on to train for a marathon, or just lose ten pounds, waits around for the motivation to exercise every day. Good habits start off as motivation, but they aren’t driven by them every day. In fact, the opposite tends to be true. Most people don’t want to go outside for a walk, or a run, or a bike ride. They’d rather stay inside, eat unhealthy foods, and sit on the couch. It’s comfortable. it’s routine. Motivation can only motivate you to stand up. It will never take your hand and walk you out the door. It’ll put the pen in your hand, but will never bring it to paper.

Be honest with yourself.

And finally: set goals you know that you can accomplish. If you hate running, find exercise you enjoy. Heck, if you don’t like writing, but have something to communicate: start a vlog. Or paint. Or take pictures.

You’re motivated to change because you know yourself and you know what changes you’d like to see in yourself. Continue to trust your intuition and set goals you know, deep down, that you can actually accomplish. Don’t set yourself up for failure by making an aggressively drastic change because you saw someone else do it.

Set the bar high, but not out of reach.