Almost all healing requires some changes in habit, and that’s incredibly hard. I, for one, I usually make it even harder for myself than it needs to be.
The cardinal rule of habit formation might be, “Make it as easy for yourself as possible.”
I struggle with that. It’s like I think I’m winning brownie points by overcoming as many obstacles as possible, and I am often the one maintaining the obstacles. What a waste of energy and will power!
Fortunately, though I still have a long way to go, I have improved my habit skills over the years. I’ve learned some ways to make things easier for myself (many of them from my husband), which means (1) I establish more habits (2) with less stress (3) more permanently and (4) with more energy left over for the rest of life. Here are some strategies that help me.
Attach a New Habit to an Existing Event or Routine
This is my favorite idea ever! After my son’s birth, I wanted to re-establish my meditation habit. He only napped for 30 minutes at a time, exactly the time I needed to meditate. I made his first nap of the day my “habit trigger.” Each morning after I put him down to sleep, I immediately set my timer and began my practice. It quickly became automatic and didn’t require much of a choice anymore. (This exact routine fell apart later when his napping changed, but I’m once more using this trick as my primary strategy.)
Note that I didn’t choose a time, I chose a daily event. The baby already napped every morning.
More recently, I wanted to stretch my calves for a few minutes each day. I decided that brushing my teeth would be my cue or trigger. As it happens, I stand around while brushing my teeth, so in this case, I was able to begin stretching while doing my pre-existing habit.
A third example: I wanted to pray more each day, so I made nursing sessions with the baby a time for prayer. Baby latches, I pray.
Establishing the Habit, not Meeting Your Goal, Is the First Step
Oh, maybe this is really my favorite idea! I currently want to build back up to meditating for 30 minutes in the morning. Right now, to strengthen the baby nap-meditation connection, I let myself meditate for as little as 5 minutes. The point in the beginning isn’t to meet my ultimate goal but merely to establish the habit. Once it becomes nearly automatic to sit every nap time–even if the house is a mess, even if people are coming over, even if I’m dying to finish a project–it’s very little extra effort to begin to stretch the time to 10, 20, and 30 minutes.
Everyone says it, but somehow I still need to be reminded to keep it small. My vision is large, and I want to fly to the top of the mountain effortlessly. That’s fantasy land (and incredibly prideful too). In the real world, I do best by breaking up changes into smaller pieces and being willing to work gradually.
I try to be content with meeting a single criterion: Am I doing a little better than last week/month/year? If so, that’s real progress. I try to celebrate that.
For example, I want to walk 10,000 steps per day. As someone who’s recovering from years of severe fatigue, some of my habits are very sedentary. I discovered I can easily walk only 3,000 to 4,000 steps in a day. Yikes! Rather than shoot for 10,000 steps right away, I’m trying to improve by 500-1,000 steps per day every couple of weeks.
Set the Stage
Okay, this is definitely my favorite idea. Even if I practice the first 3, without setting the stage, I set myself up to fail.
A few ways I practice this:
- I help myself meditate by keeping my pillows and props in a designated spot.
- I make it 10x more likely that I’ll stretch my calves while brushing my teeth by keeping a half roller tucked underneath the bathroom sink.
- I keep other stretching equipment visible in my home for the same reason.
- To make walking every morning easier, I store my walking shoes and socks by the back door, hang hats for me and baby there, and keep a blanket next to the stroller.
You get the idea.
So that’s what works for me. Do you have strategies for establishing new habits?