Hitting the Wall

In an earlier post I wrote about how to form a new habit by strategically breaking all the rules. For anyone who's ever adopted a new habit, there comes a moment, more like several moments, when you enounter fierce, internal rebellion. Not a fleeting buckling of the knees, but rather gale force winds threatening to blow you off your feet to even further from where you started. So how can you combat this powerful resistance?

The solution is novelty. Just like we broke the rules to keep the habit going, there are EZPZ ways to use variety to renew your motivation.

EZPZ ways to bring novelty to your habit

1. Change location or timing. If you are feeling burnt out and unmotivated from the same routine, switching up the where or when can give you a much-needed boost. Switch from doing it at home to work. If home works best, try a different room with a different view. If you normally write at the coffee shop, try going to the library or park. The great thing about this is it doens't have to be a permanent of even long-term change. Just one or two sessions from a different perspective may be all you need to get you back on track.

2. Change the style. Can't bear the thought of another salsa class? Sign up for tango. Dreading another night at the gym? Try indoor rock climbing.

3. Planned moratorium. No guilt is the key. And right back at it.
I used to work with a colleague whose mother had "quit" smoking for over 20 years. Her secret was that every Christmas, she allowed herself exactly 1 cigarette at Christmas. Now while this might not comply with her health or life insurer's definition of being a non-smoker, in a way this is a brilliant technique. She knows she can and will have exactly one a year at a given time and date and no more. 
Ken story about cake for dieters

For a bit of inspiration, don't let this new habit you've worked so hard on so far bite the dust!

Next post next Saturday, 6:30 a.m.

Create a New Habit by Breaking the Rules!

"If you obey all the rules, you will miss all the fun."    -Katharine Hepburn

Rules. We all need them, but we naturally bristle against them. Even, or perhaps especially, against the rules we set for ourselves. And let's be honest, we take a certain joy from breaking rules. It's in our DNA.

So, instead of denying this part of ourselves, how about using it to our advantage? I recently discovered that breaking rules can be an aid in developing a new habit.

Everyone has a good habit that they want to adopt. Intellectually, we know it is good for us. But for some reason, we get stuck in a loop with bad habits that deliver short-term gratification, but are long-term losers. And the best we ever seem to be able to achieve are glorious, but short-lived stints with the good habit. It doesn't have to be that way.

For example, I recently set a goal for myself to meditate for 30 days straight so I could develop this as a habit instead of picking it up for a few days and then dropping it as I had in the past. BEFORE you stop reading, I promise I will not spend a single syllable on telling you how great meditation is and how it will improve the quality of your life. It just happened to be the habit I was trying to develop. In your mind, replace "meditate" with exercise, read, or even call your mother. 

And since so many people have a visceral, negative reaction to the word meditate, I will no longer use the word after this period. Instead, I will replace it with a word has a special history of being banned, but not contained - dance! Cue Footloose music.

I'm happy to report I succeeded in dancing at least once a day for 30 days. I did this, and so can you, by setting certain rules and then, strategically breaking them from time to time. So let's begin.

EZPZ rules for Habit Formation

Rule #1. Set an ideal time.

What would be the best time for you to dance? Morning or evening? When do you have the least distractions? When do you have the most free time, the most energy or the most focus? Now set the same time each day to dance and do it.

How to break it.

The time you set for yourself is the best time, but try to dance as early in the day as possible. From time to time, we all stumble upon some unplanned extra time. Instead of using it to watch HBO Now or Netflix (my own cross to bear), use it to get a jump start on keeping your commitment for the day. This makes it less likely that distractions and unplanned events will prevent you from completing your dance session at your designated time or before 24 hours runs out.

Rule #2. Be protective of your time and prioritize your own needs over other commitments.

Regardless of the intention, the people in our lives can often be a barrier to our successfully developing a new habit. You should plan for this and where possible, avoid a direct conflict by setting your times to dance when others are not seeking your time. And where that is not possible, you should stay committed to your time and be firm that you will be available as soon as possible, just not at that time.

How to break it.

Keeping your dance time too sacred, regardless of the varying needs of others is a sure-fire way to lose friends and have everyone rooting for you to fail. Where appropriate, be flexible and show that you value the time that others want from you and prioritize your friends and family. You can stop for a few minutes or even reschedule your dancing for later. This will earn you credit, and perhaps more importantly, support down the line.

Rule #3. Set your threshold for completion.

How many minutes or repetitions do you want to do in a day? What amount of time do you need to even make it worth it? Based on your level of mental or physical fitness, your schedule and your intuition, pick a number and stick to it. The key is to maintain a chain throughout 30 days while you are establishing your new habit.

How to break it.

The period when you are forming a new habit is like riding a bike uphill. As soon as you stop pedaling, you lose momentum and balance and cannot continue. Going faster makes things easier, but as long as you are pedaling, even just a bit, the bike keeps moving. That is why doing even 1/10 of your planned commitment on a busy day is better than nothing at all. We all have had an experience where one missed day spiraled into total loss of momentum and failure. So go ahead and do what you can and try for better the next day. Don't fall into the trap of "I shouldn't even bother unless I have a clear x minutes available."

Once your habit has been formed, it's like riding a bike downhill. It happens more easily, 10 minutes starts to feel like 5, and you activate autopilot so that missing a day doesn't jeopardize your commitment in the same way it might have in the beginning.

Rule #4. If you miss a day, restart the count.

The goal is to have a continuous string of 30 days where you do the desired activity at least once a day so a habit starts to form. If you are not counting, it's easy to lose track and skipping one day becomes 3 days or more. Having a continuous string of 30 days will help solidify your habit for the long term.

How to break it.

Give yourself a bye. Either by design or chance, when there is an extra slot in a playoff, the best team often gets a bye or a free pass to the next round. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that since you are trying to better yourself here, that's pretty amazing. So give yourself a bye and don't let one slip up send you back to the beginning or spiraling into the depths of self-pity. Just pretend like you succeeded and make sure you get back with the program the next day. Be as gracious with yourself as you would be with others. You deserve it.

Now that you have these EZPZ rules and helpful ways to break them, go forth and in the immortal words of Kenny Loggins, "Cut loose, Footloose!"



Making the Most of a New Job

Change is stressful. And major changes, even good ones, come with increased stress. For instance, both divorce AND marriage are both on most lists of life's most stressful events, along with birth and death, and getting hired or fired. We are creatures of habit so predictability reduces our overall level of anxiety.

On the flipside, change and stress are a necessary ingredient for us to grow and develop. But there is a catch. The stress we experience over the course of the day is additive, which is why you might start the day relaxed and be redlining by the time you leave work. And too much stress makes it harder for us to make the most of our opportunities.

I recently started a new job, which was good news for me and my family. However, this change came with stress. A new commute, new office layout, new office politics - to name a few. So in order to limit some of the collateral stressors I experience in my day, I've implemented 3 EZPZ habits. The great thing about habits is once they are established, they require very little willpower and fold into your day seamlessly.

1. Robot Parking

I'm not sure when I realized my behavior was ludicrous, but in the past I would zig-zag my car from the row closest to the entrance to the last row until I found the closest parking spot. Let's do the math. So I was spending at least a few more minutes, burning extra gas, and adding stress to my first activity at work for the "benefit" of being maybe 20 steps closer to the entrance. And to be embarrassingly honest, thankfully there is no physical or medical reason I would need to be closer and my dad-bod could actually use the extra steps.

2. Walk-in song

Music has and always will have a huge effect on our mood. And what better way to start off the day than a song to put you in the right mindset to tackle your day? A song like "Center Stage" by Capital Cities makes me feel like I can handle whatever is thrown at me. Well, at least for the first 30 minutes! But sometimes that is enough to make all the difference between a good day and a bad day.

3. Break room as uber-friendly zone

My natural demeanor at the office is friendly, but not overly chatty with coworkers I don't know well. When you are starting a new job, any stranger you meet in the office could be an important ally in the future. It's a bit too much to ask of anyone to be extra friendly all the time, but I think the break room is an important crossroads where you can meet all sorts of interesting colleagues. So I make it a point to override my natural inclination and force myself to be just a little more friendly to everyone when I'm there. In the past this has allowed me to meet mentors and mentees, make friends, and even get invited to a lunch meeting with the CEO!

These are just a few EZPZ examples and I imagine you probably can come up with some great ones, too. I hope these tips will serve you well.