I actually work better with a set schedule based on the routines and habits that I have established over the years. I enjoy rising early and having my exercise and devotional/meditation time before breakfast because it sets the tone for the entire day of productivity. Habits are part of everyone’s life. We just need to make sure that they are positive and productive habits.
In our next two Wisdom Notes, we will explore the habit of habit formation. This may be very difficult for some because habit formation takes time and perseverance. Fortunately, there are some clear principles to form and maintain habits. There is a comprehensive path for setting habits in our lives, and if followed, we can form good habits, as we get rid of those that are bad.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend a trial where the defendant had shackles on his ankles and wrist, and it was very evident that it was difficult, very slow, and painful for him to walk. In the same way, if we have shackles of bad habits impacting our lives, it will hold us back, and we will never be able to fulfill our God-given potential until we are freed from these bad habits.
It is very important to realize that if we desire to rid ourselves of bad habits in any area of our lives that we must at the same time form new, positive habits, or we will just fall back into the same routine and never be free of the shackles that restrict us. Remember that one key law of life is that when we say “no” to one choice, we are automatically saying “yes” to another. This applies to habits also.
This reminds me of the story that Jesus told when the religious leaders of his day accused him of casting out demons by the power of Satan. As I read this passage from Luke [11:24]-26, where Jesus speaks of evicting demons from people, let’s use the comparison of the demons being bad habits in our lives. Many times we do refer to our bad habits as our demons.
“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.”
The same principles apply to our habits as to the literal demons that Jesus cast out during His early ministry.
Next we will explore some research from habit creation specialist Leo Barbauta as we investigate of “The Four Habits that Form Habits.”
One of the biggest obstructions that we encounter on our quest to good habit formation is that we visualize what the destination should be and we become overwhelmed to the point of paralysis, so we don’t make the changes needed.
When we do get motivated to change, at first we think that we can take large steps and make great strides. The trail is rather smooth and flat, and we want to rush ahead. That is until we reach the steep slope and we have already expended our energy. Then we have nothing else to give when it becomes difficult, so we stop and the old habits come rushing back into our lives.
As we explore the fundamentals of habits, we will cover four key guidelines to form habits. If you can learn these four habits, you’ll have the foundation to form pretty much any habit. Let’s start with the first.
Habit Guideline #1: Start Exceedingly Small
Let us look at a couple of practical examples.
Let’s say you want to work out more, but you have a hard time forming the habit. Most people have this issue. From having to get dressed in order to go to the gym to actually go to the gym to the thought of a hard workout, your mind tends to put off the habit.
The solution is exceedingly simple. The first day just do 3 push-ups in the privacy of your home or walk/jog for just one minute. Make it so easy you can’t say no. You may think, “Now, Guthrie, that is just plain ridiculous. Anyone can walk for a minute or do three push-ups.” You will think that’s too easy, and tell yourself that you have to do more than that.
Unfortunately, it’s this mindset that causes people to fail at habits. We think we can do more, despite past evidence to the contrary, and so we aspire to greatness. We try to climb Everest before we’ve learned to walk.
Learn the fundamentals of habits before you try to do the advanced skills. If I could convince people of that, I could get millions to change their habits, be healthier, simplify, procrastinate less, and start creating amazing things.
Another common habit that too few people actually do is flossing their teeth daily. So, my advice is just flossing one tooth the first night. Of course, that seems so ridiculous you may laugh. But I’m totally serious. If you start out exceedingly small, you won’t say no. You’ll feel crazy if you don’t do it. So, you’ll actually do it! That’s the point. Actually doing the habit is much more important than how much you do.
If you want to exercise, it’s more important that you actually do the exercise on a regular basis rather than doing enough to get a benefit right away. Sure, maybe you need 30 minutes of exercise to see some fitness improvements, but try doing 30 minutes a day for two weeks without missing. See how far you get, if you haven’t been exercising regularly. Then, if you don’t succeed, try 1-2 minutes a day. See how far you get there.
If you can do two weeks of 1-2 minutes of exercise, you have a strong foundation for a habit. Add another week or two, and the habit is almost ingrained. Once the habit is strong, you can gradually add a few minutes each week. Soon you’ll be doing 30 minutes on a regular basis even though you started out really small.
I regularly exercise for at least an hour every morning, including a HIIT training, pull-ups, push-ups and crunches…but I did not start with an hour of intense running, I worked up to it gradually. I also gradually added getting up a few minutes earlier to compensate for the extra time needed to run and exercise. One important factor in ensuring success is to prepare ahead of time. For instance, I lay out all of my exercise clothes the night before, so that I am ready to get dressed in them in the morning.
Want to start a good habit? Try the flossing habit. Try to floss every tooth every night, and see how far you get. You might succeed, but if you fail, try just one tooth per night and see how far you get. Your extent will vary, but on average most people get farther with a habit when they start small.
One glass of water a day. One extra vegetable. Three push-ups. One sentence of writing a day. Two minutes of meditation. This is how you start a habit that lasts. Start small and gradually build from there. Remember that life is a marathon, not a sprint.
As we implement the “Four Habits that Form Habits” in our lives, we are learning that habit formation is not that difficult, but how we approach it makes it difficult.