Building Habits for the New Year

As we gear up for the new year, it is good to take stock of what worked in the past year, identify key points of improvement and commit to building new practices to become better individuals. I vowed to finish the book “Superhuman by Habit: A Guide to Becoming the Best Possible Version of Yourself” before the end of 2014 to generate more insights as I put together the building blocks for the year to come.

2015 will be a more exciting year as I take on new challenges personally and professionally. This will also be a year of being more conscious of the habits that I choose to pursue. I am currently very interested in the habit of habit-building and will chronicle my learnings throughout the year. I’ll get started by sharing some of the key principles that I shall keep in mind.

Start Small 

Most people think that habits should be hard and painstaking for it to be truly worthwhile. They choose to start on something, get into it head on, discover that it is hard to sustain, not see immediate results and just decide that this is not for them.

Let us take working out as an example. At the start of the year, people decide that they will get into a fitness regimen. They commit to spending an hour at the gym at least three times a week, after work, and expect to see results in a month’s time. Unfortunately, life gets in the way and the schedule for exercise is the first one to go especially if there is no apparent decrease in body weight or a marked muscle gain. This is because it takes a lot of effort to commit to a full hour of exercise. But if we tweak the habit by asking for a commitment of five minutes of work out time per day, then it becomes more doable.

I plan to apply this principle in my writing and reading. I was told that to have a decent blog, I have to write at least three articles a week and aim to  have at least fifty posts before fully launching the site. This seems like a tall order given that I have very limited time. So what I choose to do instead on a daily basis is to write at least 500 words. This is an easy target to accomplish, one that I can do for thirty minutes everyday, before I start my day’s work. It is also important to keep up with my reading list so that I will be able to share more. For this habit, I choose to commit ten minutes a day during the quiet time upon waking. I used to delve straight into my social media feeds upon getting up, as if I would miss out on something if I did not do this immediately. I choose to replace this action with reading books that I find interesting. Considering that my husband has over 150 titles on his Kindle account, it would be a waste not to load up on brain food.

Watch Out for Triggers 

Habits occur after a given trigger. This is very evident in the habit of smoking. Smokers say that lighting a cigarette is automatic after waking up, when going for a dump, after having a meal, when taking a break from work, while having coffee or drinking alcohol. The act of smoking is no longer a mindful act but a resulting action after a given stimulus.

This scenario is very much evident in my relationship with social media. I love social media for the stuff that I learn and for just keeping updated with everyone’s lives. But it sure is addicting and I end up spending so much time on it. It also distracts me throughout the day. Every time I am stumped with a task or unsure of how to proceed with something, I check my timeline. If I am having a hard time tackling a problem or a task seems too overwhelming, I succumb to my feeds. This back and forth between task on hand and social media leaves me feeling unproductive at the end of a day. It is as if I did not get to finish anything even if I seemed busy throughout the day.

This habit is triggered by the feeling of uncertainty in the face of a given task.  As mentioned in the Superhuman book, “Whenever you begin a new habit, you should think about what its trigger is going to be, and to commit to that.” Since I noticed that hitting a stumbling block triggers the action, I will try to replace the automatic response with a new habit, listing three things on how I plan to proceed in order to get over this hurdle. By putting concrete actions on paper, I am forced to think about what needs to be done to move forward. It also keeps me focused on the task on hand so I see it to fruition before doing something else.

Do It Twice Then Quit

There are days that keeping to a task or a habit is just too hard. We all go through moments when we feel that our willpower is not at its most optimal level.The true test of a habit is when we continue to do it even if every fiber of our being wants to do otherwise. The easier path is just to quit and say that we will make up for the lapse the next day. But as we continue to do this, the resolve to commit to a habit weakens as well.

The book proposes that every time we feel the urge to quit, we keep at it twice before finally quitting. The key here is to continue showing up even if you do not feel like it and to carry on with the habit, making a bit of progress. When the urge to stop resurfaces, continue with whatever momentum you have summed up. At this point, you have made some decent progress and you would feel that stopping is no longer an option because of the headway you have made. However, if you still choose to quit, you at least tried to resist the urge twice before giving in.

Keep It Consistent

“Your results will be commensurate with the consistency to which you execute your habits, not to the magnitude of their one-time impact.” Consistency strengthens habits. More than the result, it is repeatedly doing an action that establishes a habit.

According to Tynan, missing two days of a habit is habit suicide. “If missing one day reduces your chances of long term success by a small amount like five percent, missing two days reduces it by forty percent or so. Three days missed and you may as well be starting over.”

For me, I saw this in the habit of sleep. A lot of people take sleep for granted and think that they can just compensate for weekdays of sleep deprivation by sleeping in on weekends. But by not building a good sleeping pattern, you deprive yourself of the much needed rest and recovery that will allow you to function at a more optimal level during the day. Plus  the aggregate effect of not having enough sleep takes its toll on overall health in the long term.

Load Up Before Maintaining

There are two parts to building a habit – the loading up phase and the maintenance phase. As you start on your habit building, you need to load up on it which usually requires more stringent measures to imprint the habit into our system. Only when you have fully embraced the habit and included it in your daily routine that you can relax a bit, shifting it to the maintenance phase.

For this coming year, I plan to take out sugar from my diet to ensure better health in the years to come. I tried this a few months back and it resulted to a more stable weight and less frequent bloating. To get started, I will avoid rice, pasta, pastries, desserts and anything made of artificial and/or refined sugar. I love wine, beer and cocktails so I will try my very best to skip these as well. Until I get into a rhythm where I can safely say that I can skip these types of food despite the abundance and availability will I start on a maintenance phase, complete with cheat days.

Chaining Must Do Events 

“Think about all the things that absolutely must get done in a day and work them into chains…. It is through this process that habits give you freedom— chains take care of the necessities of life and leave you with time and willpower to make forward progress….It is important to think of your job or your work primarily as a system of habits.”

One of the most powerful things I learned from the Superhuman book is building your day using chains of habits, linking each one and making each habit a trigger for the next one. I have been trying to practice this in the past year as I accomplish a task based on a routine sequence. It is not always successful and I fail a lot but what keeps me going is the thought that my day’s design primarily falls on my shoulders. Although there may be a lot of unexpected things happening around me, I can at least have some semblance of control if I keep to my day’s chain of events.

Choose A Good Habit Environment

A habit grows freely in the right environment. “Simplicity and freedom from distraction are the core components of the habit builder’s habitat.” This is why it is important to create the proper context for a habit to flourish.

For the coming year, I would like to devote time for meditation. To get started, I will start small with just having five minutes of quiet every day. I plan to do this right after my daily training, after stretching in the gym’s serene studio. This is also my way of saying thank you to the universe for allowing me to accomplish a full workout session. After a strenuous training, it would be nice to finish off with a short quiet time to just settle in before tackling the rest of the day’s work.

Find A Strong Motivation

But what really gets us to stick to a habit is having the right motivation. As they say, real change is the product of motivation. What allows us to keep on doing something is the vision of who we want to become at the end of the process. How badly we want something to be our reality will be the driver for us to stay committed to doing what we do day in and day out.

2015 is all about getting better at my craft, becoming the best runner that I can ever be. This year’s goal is to run a 3:35  marathon at the very least so I can qualify for the 2016 Boston Marathon. This is not an easy path but I am thankful that I am clear about what I want to achieve in this sport this year. This clarity gives me focus and determination as I map out how my year of training will flow.  I am scared and excited and I can’t wait to get started in my training.

So as the year comes to an end, it is good to identify things that we do each day and identify how we can adjust them to make them a little better, and make life a little better. And yes we can be super humans, beings who can “exceed our normal capabilities just by learning how to use our willpower as efficiently as possible… habitualizing as much as possible, taking actions that previously consumed willpower and making them automatic.”

Looking forward to a great year in 2015!

2012-09-30 14.15.39-1

Game face on and looking forward to 2015!

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