I need some new habits, and that means I’ve got work to do.
Self-discipline has never been my forte. Those bizarre souls who wake up at six am sharp, turn on the coffee pot two minutes later, and the hit the gym immediately… I honestly don’t know how they do it.
I’ve always been willing to work hard (on my own terms), but ask me to do something in a step-by-step and predictable way and I’ll pout like a child. To me, predictability feels like a kind of oppression. Even when I’m the one calling the shots.
As irrational as this is, I know it’s the way I roll. Is that something I can change, or is it hardwired into my personality? It’s an important question because I’ve got two important goals that require the self-discipline I lack.
Goal: To improve my physical health. (body fat %, A1C, cholesterol)
Goal: To write 3 books per year.
These goals will require persistent and ongoing effort. The part of me that knows I’m bad at routine says ugh. The part of me that knows I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to says bring it on.
Where do Habits Come From?
I re-read the book The Power of Habit, which was useful because it reminded me of the concept of keystone habits. According to the author Charles Duhigg, a keystone habit is the kind of habit that has positive ripple effects in other related areas.
I like that idea.
Duhigg writes that habits require three elements: a cue, a behavior, and a reward. Therefore I’ve been asking myself two questions. What habits will be the most meaningful? (potential keystone habits) And how can I take advantage of the Cue-Behavior-Reward cycle?
I think I’ve got the first question answered. After thinking through a bunch of different options, I’ve come up with a list of three habits that I think will bring me to my goals:
1. Log everything I eat.
2. Sleep for 8 hours per night, at roughly the same time each night.
3. Write 500 words of fiction per day.
The first one was an easy pick, because I know it works. When I log my food, I lose weight, and I eat better overall. I also tend to exercise more. As soon as I stop logging, the weight goes back on.
The second habit was harder to come up with, but I suspect it’s going to be powerful. I’ve been a crappy sleeper for most of my life. But I know that when I do sleep well, it seems to set off a chain reaction of positivity in my mood, energy level, and willingness to exercise.
The third habit is logical, I think. If I want to write three books per year, I need to be writing almost every day. Setting a low (but consistent) goal makes sense. And because my goal is about fiction, I’ve decided not to count blogging or journal writing in my word count.
My Barriers to Success
What I haven’t figured out yet is how to identify the reward for these three habits. Yes, over time presumably I’ll be healthier and I’ll have written more books, and those things will be nice. But those long-term rewards haven’t been sufficient motivation in the past, so I suspect I need something more immediate.
What will be my cue to log my food each day? And what will be my reward? I don’t think that affixing a gold star to my journal is going to do the trick.
Clearly I’ve got more thinking to do. But I’ll begin by telling myself that change is possible. Success is possible. I can do this, if I’m kind to myself, and patient, and willing to persist.
Wish me luck!