It is that time of year we are trying to establish good habits. I fall short in many areas of my life, but I am pretty good at establishing habits. In some ways, I can be like a dog after a bone on pursuing something.
Why are habits important?
Good habits help us improve the quality of our life. Good habits make us learn, stretch ourselves, get healthier, have more balance, and build our capacity to develop more good habits.
Here is some background about three of my habits . . .
Three habits I have developed are exercising 4-5 times a week, practicing the violin daily, and reading my Bible every day (well almost every day). Like everyone, life is busy and there are days in which I don’t exercise, practice violin, or read my Bible. However, I can confidently share these practices have become habits over time.
On Memorial Day 2020, I decided I needed to get healthier. In addition to making better food choices (still working on this), I also wanted to add exercise to my routine. I needed to develop this habit.
Practicing the Violin
When our daughter was in first grade, she started taking violin lessons. I accompanied her to most of her lessons when she was a young child; she is grown now. I had a violin but just toyed with it. Now that I am retired, I decided to learn how to play. I knew practicing on a daily basis was essential to improve and so developed this habit.
Reading My Bible
Another habit I am developing is consistently reading my Bible and praying each day. My spiritual life is essential to my existence.
DETERMINE WHAT HABIT YOU WANT TO ESTABLISH
Choose the habit you want to establish. Choose wisely; if you are going to commit to developing a habit then choose something worthy of your investment of time.
Clearly define in your mind why you want to establish this habit. Ask yourself why this habit is important to you. Write out why this habit is important to you. Writing helps you fully think through your reasoning and increases your commitment.
Also, don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to establish too many habits at one time. Pick what is most important to you and develop this habit. Once this new habit is clearly established, then select another habit. Initially, start with just one habit.
VISUALIZE THE RESULTS YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH (Part I of visualization)
Take your time on this part. Give yourself a day or so to fully let this marinate in your mind. In your mind’s eye, picture what you will have accomplished as a result of establishing this habit.
In developing the habit of exercising 5 days a week, I pictured myself looking better in clothing or even wearing smaller-sized clothes. I also pictured myself hiking in Gatlinburg without being out of breath and able to fully enjoy the scenery of the hike. My biggest motivation is picturing myself effortlessly riding a bike with future grandchildren. In other words, being physically active in my 70s, 80s, and beyond.
Establish a time every day you want to practice this habit.
In establishing the habit of practicing the violin, I initially established before dinner as my time to practice.
You also need to allocate time. In other words, how long will this activity take each day?
In relationship to exercise, not only do you need to decide when to exercise (before work in the morning, during lunch, after work, etc.) but you actually need to calculate the time needed to change clothes, drive to the gym (if not working out at home), taking a shower afterward, etc.
I realize I have more time than most people because I am retired and only work part-time. This is why I am encouraging you to only establish one habit at a time and not overwhelm yourself. You have to be realistic about how much time you have and what you are willing (in time) to give up to establish your new habit.
One area you might want to examine is how much time you watch television. Watching less television may give you more time to develop meaningful habits. This is an area Neal and I are currently examining in our lives. I am convinced we would all be smarter if we watched less television.
Get what you need to establish the habit.
In establishing the habit of exercise, I created worksheets that outlined by exercise plan (what exercises I would do, the weights I would use, etc.). This may require some research on your part. I knew I could not just show up in the basement and not have a plan of action. Of course, I also needed the proper equipment. However, you don’t need equipment to exercise. You can run, walk, dance, use your body weight, and do good old fashioned exercises like jumping jacks and pushups to exercise. The point is you need to have a plan and the equipment you need to accomplish your goal.
I also laid out my exercise clothes each night in preparation for the morning. This prepared me mentally for exercising the next morning. Were they times I laid out my clothes and still did not get up? Yes, but laying out my clothes did contribute to developing the habit over time.
In establishing the habit of reading my Bible, I determined what books I would read and how many chapters I would read each day. I also decided to watch a video on the Bible app prior to reading each book in the Bible for historical context. I also journal my prayers, so I keep a journal with my Bible.
Part of your preparation is also determining location.
In other words, where will you do this activity?
I exercise in our basement, practice the violin in my craft room (Neal and I refer to this as my “soundproof” booth), and read my Bible sitting at my desk.
If you are running or walking, where will you do this? In your neighborhood, at a track, on a treadmill in a gym?
You get the idea. You need to have a plan. The more you think through the steps you need to take, the easier (notice I wrote “easier” not “easy”) it will be to establish the habit.
WRITE THIS ON YOU DAILY “TO-DO” LIST
Call me old school, but I really believe that writing something down helps you commit to it. I have many “squirrel” moments in which I am distracted so I live by my “To-Do” list (sometimes too much.) Here is what this section of my “to do” list looks like.
In establishing the habit of reading my Bible, I am trying to read it every day . . . and pray too. I do not journal every day, just when I have time or feel inspired to write something.
VISUALIZE YOURSELF ACTUALLY DOING THIS HABIT (Part 2 of visualization)
Yes, we are back to visualization. Previously, I shared about visualizing the result you want to achieve (looking great in clothing as a result of exercising, playing the violin beautifully, or growing deeper in your faith). However, this time, picture yourself actually doing the habit.
In establishing the habit of reading my Bible, I see myself sitting at my desk with my Bible open, my journal and pen on my desk, a cup of coffee in my favorite insulated cup, and a candle burning.
If you are trying to establish the habit of running, picture yourself in workout clothes, earbuds, and running in your neighborhood.
SHARE WITH A FRIEND
Share the habit you are trying to establish with a friend or significant other. This will cause you to feel a sense of accountability to someone and they can encourage you.
In establishing the habit of exercising, I shared with Neal and my good friend Britney. Again, they have both been a source of encouragement and accountability. Over the past few months, Neal has established the habit of exercising every morning at 5:00 and let me say he is more dedicated than me. My friend Britney is converting her garage to an exercise room. So, we are all encouraging each other.
Initially, JUST START!
To quote Nike, “Just do it!” Really, just show up! Put on those exercise shoes and get to it.
Don’t be obsessed with focusing on the quality initially. For the first week or two, you are just trying to establish the habit of showing up every day at the time you specified. You are carving out 20 or 30 minutes every day; you are just trying to make this time part of your routine.
In establishing the habit of reading my Bible, if I just read one of two chapters and prayed a quick prayer, that was enough initially. Over time, I would go deeper and add to my repertoire.
CELEBRATE SHOWING UP
After a few days of “showing up”, celebrate the fact that you did it! I do a lot of self-talk and so I would say, “You Go, Girl!” or “You are doing it, Suzanne!”
After a few weeks of “showing up”, celebrate AGAIN that you are making progress!
Feel the success of following through each day. Give yourself a pat on the back.
I find myself saying to Neal things like, “Check me out, I actually exercised 6 days this week” or “I have practiced violin every day this week.”
CELEBRATE PROGRESS (Can you tell I believe in celebrating?)
After you have a few weeks under your belt, celebrate progress!
My personal slogan in almost every area of my life is, “Celebrating progress, not perfection!”
Celebrate your success several days . . . weeks . . . months. . . into developing your habit. Remember, you committed to this habit for a reason, so celebrate that reason. Let the habit fuel you to keep going!
Initially, when practicing the violin, I got pumped when I played a song and it was recognizable, or our cat Buddy would no longer run from the room. Now, I celebrate when I start sounding better playing a song that I have practiced for weeks. With violin, I consistently celebrate progress over perfection. If I waited for perfection, I would not be celebrating that much.
In establishing the habit of exercising, I celebrate getting stronger, faster, sleeping better, less flab, more tone, etc. One day, I felt a bump in the shower and initially panicked, then I realized this was a muscle! Fear turning into jubilation!
WHEN YOU GET OFF TRACK . . .
If you get off track, don’t beat yourself up – – life happens! When I had elbow surgery, I got off-track with exercising and practicing the violin.
Just recognize that you are off-track. It is better to try to develop a habit and have some setbacks than not to try at all. We are all human, so give yourself a break, analyze why you got off-track, and re-establish the habit again using the same initial steps.
IMPROVE YOUR TECHNIQUE
Once you have established your habit (weeks or even months later), improve your technique. Now is the time to focus on quality.
- What can you do to improve your exercise routine?
- What can you do to improve your practice time?
- What can you do to go deeper in your Bible reading and prayer time?
In establishing the habit of exercise, I started changing up my routine, increasing the weight I was using, beating my time as I was rowing. Neal has really become good at this. He is constantly reading and upping his exercise routine.
In establishing the habit of reading my Bible, I try to go deeper, to be more plugged in to God’s voice as I read and pray, to pray that the scripture I read will speak to me, and for this time to be more genuine.
Habits make us become a better version of ourselves!
So, let’s review:
- Determine what habit you want to establish
- Visualize the results you hope to accomplish
- Establish a time
- Take time to prepare
- Write this on your daily “to-do” list
- Share with a friend
- Just START
- Celebrate Showing up
- Celebrate Progress
- Get Back on Track if needed
- Improve your Technique
What habit do you want to establish?
- Practicing a foreign language?
- Reading for pleasure every day?
- Drinking more water every day?
- Meditating daily?
- Getting up on time each day?
- Straightening your house every day?
Stretch yourself! See what is possible. You can do it!