As I mentioned in my January wrap-up, I had some habits I wanted to make and some habits I wanted to break. The good news is that I managed to stay off chocolate and sweets, and to do some form of exercise every day, for the entire month of January. Today, I’m sharing how I increased my chances of sticking to my new habits in the hopes that it will help you with your habits too.
I’ve read several times that the human brain doesn’t like unfinished things. It likes tasks to be completed, which is why you randomly remember things you were supposed to do when you’re about to get some shut-eye. All those uncompleted tasks rattle around your noggin ’til you finally get your shit together and do them. I’m sure there’s some fancy scientific term for it but, in a nutshell, your brain wants you to stop being such a lazy bastard and just finish what you started.
Then I read an interview with Jerry Seinfeld in which he says that he keeps himself motivated to come up with new comedy material every day by using a calendar. Each day that he writes, he crosses it off on the calendar. Eventually, it gets to the stage where he doesn’t want to “break the chain” by missing a day.
So I decided that if I started tracking things, my brain and my perfectionist ways (I knew they had to come in handy for something) wouldn’t let me slack off. It also had to be visual, because something that’s right in front of you is a lot harder to ignore or to explain away. I couldn’t give myself any excuses.
So, being the planner nerd that I am, I designed an insert to go into my Filofax, whereby I could list the things I wanted to track and then, each day I achieved them, I’d mark it off.
Here’s what the completed January version looks like:
The top group contains habits I wanted to get into every single day. Anything in subsequent groups is something I wanted to achieve at least once or twice a week.
And, as you can see, I did pretty well. I only missed one day of drinking 2 litres of water out of the entire month, and that was because I was at a concert that evening and didn’t want to spend half of it running back and forth to the toilets. (But I drank 1 and a half litres that day, so still good going.)
There were some days when I hadn’t quite accomplished everything before bed. But I didn’t want to “break the chain” so I forced myself to get it done, purely for the satisfaction of colouring in that little square. There were plenty of evenings when I did a few squats or jumping jacks, just to tick off the “exercise” box. Plenty of evenings where I necked a pint of water so I could complete my H20 quota for the day.
Looking at my chart every day forced me to face up to the things I was neglecting and, my brain not wanting to leave the chain unfinished, it gave me the motivation I needed to get shit done.
In fact, it’s been such a huge help for me that I’ve gone ahead and printed off charts for the rest of the year.
You don’t have to go as far as I went, printing out your own chart and using different coloured pens; any monthly calendar will do, and you can easily use the same pen to mark off the days. I know some people who mark their days with stickers, so there’s no “one size fits all”. Just do what you think will work for you, and keep it in a place you’ll see it every day. But try to make it a proper chain by filling in the days so that they link together. It may be difficult to see your progress if you’re just putting a tiny tick in a big space.
Once you’ve built up a few days, you won’t want to “break the chain” either. Your brain won’t want to let you.
Seeing proof of your progress makes it that much harder to slack off.
It worked (and is still working) for me. Try it, and let me know if it works for you!
What helps you stay on track with your habits?