One Habit at a Time

I’ve had some problems with habits over the years. I seem to have plenty of the bad ones and not a whole lot of the good ones. You, of course, don’t know what I’m talking about. You, of course, floss your teeth regularly, get to bed at a ‘decent’ hour (and what, pray tell, is a decent hour versus an indecent one? As far as I can tell, hours are pretty much all alike, although about half are in daylight and half aren’t – maybe the indecent ones are the ones I’m going to finally go to sleep in), and eat moderately, exercise regularly, pick up your clothes, never smoke, drink or take drugs, and stay away from crazy-making people. And you, for sure, aren’t one of those crazy makers yourself.

But in my case . . . well, let’s just say that I’ve had issues with habits. I’m basically rebellious and like any bratty kid with a tantrum bursting inside her, I can yell and scream with the best of them, especially if you tell me I have to do the same ‘good’ thing or refrain from the same ‘bad’ thing – for the rest of my life. That just seems so . . . I don’t know . . . boring. And I am not boring. Or rather, I hope I’m not boring. I pray I’m not boring.

As I’ve grown, though, I actually have come to see that developing a few good habits could actually allow me to be more creative (and, therefore in my twisted mind, less boring) and in the bargain, maybe I’d lose some weight, have less to clean up, and hey, keep my teeth.

So I got convinced somewhere along the line that maybe, just maybe, developing some habits would be good for me. And then I started immediately messing that up big time. First, I tried to tackle almost everything at once. I figured – if I’m going to make these changes, better to do it all at once – which somehow seemed less painful. As you might guess, this is the classic mindset of a compulsive, all or nothing type. I don’t really need to add, “like myself” to that one, do I?

Well, doing everything all at once failed spectacularly. Wow. I lasted about 2 days with all my ‘good habit’ goals. They didn’t drop off all at once, but I’d floss my teeth for a couple of days and then ‘forget’ although I was still drinking those eight glasses of water, which hung on for a few more days, but I’d have some dumb reason why I couldn’t log in to the weight watchers site and record what I’d eaten, and then I was too busy at the office to finish my daily timesheet (note the term ‘daily’ which I have generally taken to mean they needed to be done by the end of the month), and of course that pile of clothes seemed to miraculously NOT put itself on hangers, and I was still finding plenty to do at two in the morning when I knew I had to be up at seven the next morning. *Yawn*

Along with all this, I wasn’t entirely clear on how many days or nights I needed to actually make a habit stick. I might do some of the above for three or even ten or fifteen days in a row, but then flub up for the next two months or so.

Finally I realized a very important point that I had tried extremely hard to ignore. I needed to concentrate on just one, or at most, two . . . okay, okay, just one habit at a time.

And I needed to concentrate on this one habit for much longer than I thought, before I could even consider that I’d made it a second-nature, don’t-have-to-think-about-it-every-time habit. For me, the magic number was 30. I needed 30 days (or 30 times) of doing the habit before I trusted that it was really ingrained on the psychic grooves to not have to be tracked or thought about on a regular basis.

I chalk up needing longer to being naturally harder headed. Well . . . another way of putting this is that whenever I’m tested on a Meyers-Brigg scale, I’m either an INFJ or INFP. If you don’t know what all that means, the part of the scale that’s important for this discussion is the “N” which stands for intuition versus “S” for sensing. Those of us “N”, or intuitive types (the scale used the “I” for introvert, so intuitive got “N”) are fairly creative, but we also can get easily sidetracked. Kindof like this blog.

From the Meyers-Brigg perspective, us N’s just are all over the place – if we pick up a piece of paper, we don’t file it like we’re supposed to, we read it and pretty soon, before we know it, we’re googling New Zealand wool factories for organic yarn and then we’re off to somewhere else, like researching the best place to get lemongrass in LA. Staying ‘on task’ is not our strong suit.

So, in review and to get back on the rail, here are the things I think that can really help in developing good habits:

  1. Concentrate on only ONE habit at a time;
  2. Find out, through trial and error, the requisite number of days you need to do this before it really becomes second nature; and
  3. Figure out a way to track your progress.

Oh yeah, item three. I’m generally in favor of the simplest methods of tracking and if it works for you, your planner or calendar are just fine to note down or put a check mark or other squiggly thing that indicates that you did it! Yay to you!

I also found a wonderful little online help that is completely free and extremely easy to use which I’m going to share with all two of you. This is not the only goal tracker available online, but of the other one’s I’ve looked at to date, this one seems the simplest – Joe’s Goals. Some of the things you can do are track positive and negative goals and assign them a weight for prioritizing; you can also list them in any way that makes sense to you. You can also decide what and how to track – for example, which days of the week you want to track the goal (just weekdays? or everyday?) and whether you want to track the days in between – for example, it’s been 10 days since you checked off that goal/habit.

It’s pretty cool. Using Joe, I’ve actually established the following habits:

  • Flossing my teeth daily;
  • Drinking at least 5 glasses of water daily;
  • Picking up my clothes before I go to bed (instead of letting them lie about being lazy); and
  • Taking all of my supplements in the morning

Other habits are underway. I’m now working on doing daily recording on the weight watchers site (doing journaling helps me immensely to keep within my points limit – d’oh!) and yes, turning in those dreaded ‘daily’ timesheets on a daily basis. Seriously, what a concept! I will report back my progress (because god knows, I won’t be perfect.)

I don’t expect my inner brat will be departing the scene soon and frankly, I really wouldn’t want her to go. She gives me an edge and a helpful barometer to remind myself to not be too overscheduled and over-organized (in other words, be boring). As if. My little list of habits is prety modest, but even so, these have made my life better. Even my dentist is happier!

2 thoughts on “One Habit at a Time

  1. I’ve always rebelled against the idea of creating new, good habits. At the moment my primary focus is to write daily, but so far, two days in I’m two days nil. *sighs* I can THINK about writing but actually beginning? That’s the hard part.

  2. Somebody said once that you need to do something 3 weeks for it to become a habit. Unfortunately, I’ve never lasted that long with many of the things I’m trying to establish as good habits. I suppose I ought to be happy with the few I do manage to do. I enjoyed your post.

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