The Life-Changing Magic of Good Habits by Carrie Willard
It’s January, and everyone’s talking about their resolutions. Some are already feeling discouraged about their progress on their goals. Just last night, a friend lamented that he wasn’t doing so well on his goals, a common sentiment. I immediately understood the reason: without translating goals into daily habits, all the best intentions in the world are waylaid by the day-to-day stuff of life: work, parenting, logistics and errands, and our own energy levels.
Good habits, especially what experts call Keystone habits, are life-changing and, I believe, magical. Why? Habits are the tracks we lay down in the direction of our goals. They are what make goal-getting possible. Without changing them, we’re relying on willpower alone, a tricky proposition, since willpower (like muscle) is easily fatigued.
In the last few years, I’ve been a bit on fire about habits. I’ve seen how implementing small daily habits have helped me learn a second language, lose weight (and keep it off) and manage to write daily while homeschooling 7 kids. But before I figured out that good habits serve goals, I struggled to meet my goals.
Here are a few examples of how good habits work to serve goals.
I have the habit of getting up every morning at around 5. Since one of my goals is to publish 5 pieces each week on my two blogs, this habit serves that goal. (Mornings being the only time I can enjoy quiet to concentrate and write!)
A few years ago I set a goal to be conversational in French. A habit that serves that goal is doing at least one lesson per day using the DuoLingo app. I can now order a meal and have a basic conversation, en francais.
Another goal I have is to have a peaceful, warm home life. So I make it a habit of hugging each of my kids at least once a day; as they’ve become busy teens this is even more important. The habit of not using cell phones at the table also serves this goal. And my early morning rising time, I find, makes me a better, more patient mom all day because I’ve taken time, first time, to do what makes my soul sing.
The habit of meal planning, one I established years ago after the birth of my 3rd child (when I felt my house was out of control and getting dinner on the table became a huge challenge!), also helps me feel less stressed and more in control of my home atmosphere.
Some ideas: If you have the goal of, for instance, keeping your house cleaner this year, how about establishing the habit of clearing out your sink each day before bed? This habit, popularized by FlyLady, aka Marla Cilley, has helped thousands get in control of their home, precisely because it’s a Keystone habit that creates spillover.
When it comes to establishing habits, we have different personalities
Gretchen Rubin talks about the 4 Tendencies on her blog, and why it’s important to understand yours in order to meet your goals. Some people, called Obligers, meet the expectations of others but struggle to meet their own. These types need some type of accountability, someone counting on them to show up (a workout buddy or a team, for example).
If you’re struggling to establish habits, understanding your tendency may help you. You can take the Tendencies quiz here. My type is Questioner – I have to first answer the question, “Why”, but once I do, I easily motivate myself.
Another tip that has worked for many people in establishing habits is: make the habit as small as you can. Floss one tooth. Put your running shoes on. Learn ONE word in a foreign language each day. Read one page of a novel.
B.J. Fogg encouraged this approach on his website, and he has a huge community that sing its praises. The reason it works is rooted in brain chemistry. When we contemplate a goal, our brains sometimes go into freeze mode. We’re literally scared stiff thinking of the changes we’ll have to make. But making a tiny goal doesn’t elicit that fear response. Fitting the space into your bedtime routine to floss ONE tooth, you’ll soon find that you can easily floss them all without noticing the change. Fogg’s TED talk explains the concept more.
What habits can you work to establish in order to make your goals a reality this year?
Carrie Willard writes about managing the large family, habits, frugality and making time for your passions and dreams during the busy child-rearing years. Her free e-course, Make Time For You, shares tips and resources that will help you carve out time for your goals. You can find her on her website, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also pick up her book on Amazon called The How (and Wow!) of Habits.