The best way to make use of a habit optimally is to establish a time slot in the day to integrate it into your lifestyle. Some sort of timing needs to be maintained. With that being said, the most important thing is to establish something as habit in the first place and this is where most people fail. People always have a hard time sticking to things and it’s mostly because they try to freestyle them. There is no structure in their approach. They just try to go about it and correct course along the way.
Adjustments are fine, but the problem is that relying on moment to moment adjustments with little to no planning will leave you with too many inconsistencies to develop your habit effectively. Most people are afraid of sitting around and brainstorming because they don’t know where to begin. This brings me to the most important point……
Start with Consistency not Quality
Obviously, you want to acquire new habits to improve your life, but the foundation of a habit is consistency. The problem is forming that consistency. Once we begin to do them and stick to them, we can slowly refine them with layers of complexity (if needed).
They say it takes 66 days to form a new habit. That number is definitely an estimate as it takes some people longer and some people shorter periods of time to do so, but it’s important to note that it takes time.
So if consistency is the foundation of a habit, we need to focus on that first, establish it, then work on the inner details of the habit itself later. This technique combines two tools that will work in synergy.
The first tool is the “Chain Method” that was made popular by Jerry Seinfeld. This simple productivity tool has you using a large wall (or desk) calendar to mark off the days you’ve practiced the habit.
For example, lets say you want to start reading every day. Whenever you complete the task, you would mark that day off with an “X” on the calendar. The objective is the create a chain of “X’s” that you are trying not to break.
The beauty of this tool is the simplicity behind it As you can see, this technique isn’t aimed at having you do it well, only in having you do it consistently. The only thing missing from this incredibly useful tool is time.
The days are measured, but the workload isn’t. If we are going to read everyday, it might be hard to find a time to do it when you’re first starting out. Do you read every morning? At night before bed? At your lunch break? It’s not easy and the idea of doing it seems very time consuming so that’ll need preparation too.
The next tool we will need is something to take away the decision making when it comes to time itself. The more streamlined we can make our habit forming process, the easier it will be. When doing any task, limiting brain power and focusing on a system will vastly improve your success rate.
This tool is also known as “the one minute principle”. Just like the calendar chain, this one is incredibly simple as well. All it entails is doing your habit for a at least one minute a day. It does sound kind of silly, but please put it into perspective with our first and most important goals, consistency.
We are trying to work on forming and STICKING to our habits first, then refining them AFTER we establish them as habits. So when it comes to reading, we can plan to read for as little as one minute a day. This will take away the stress of planning.
Ideally, you’ll want to plan a time of the day to do that one minute of your habit. Whether it’s exercise, reading, meditating, writing, it will help establish it in the long run if you just choose a time. If you can’t choose an exact time because you have a lot of surprises in your day, then choose an event period to tie it to. For example, choosing to read right after showering before bed. If your normal routine it shower, brush your teeth, bed, you can probably just change that to shower, brush, read, bed. The beauty of this tool is that adding a new thing to your bed time routine isn’t stressful because it’s only one minute.
Putting it all Together
Finally, you’ll want to combine both the calendar chain tool and Kaizen (one minute principle) to form a solid technique to establishing the foundation of consistency to your habits. If you don’t want to choose a specific time for your one minute principle, don’t worry about it because over time, you’ll notice a pattern. Just focus on doing something everyday (or every day you have it planned) by using a visual feedback like the calendar and dedicating just one measly minute for it.
After continuing this process, a few things will emerge. A pattern will being forming and you’ll start to notice that you are completing the habit more often during the morning, middle of the day or in the evening. If you want, you can even put the time on the calendar as you cross it out to give you an idea of what time of the day you did it. That way at the end of the month, you can look back and tell yourself “it looks like I am meditating more often in the morning” or “I find I tend to exercise more during lunch time”.
For now, stick to this technique until the new habit is happening every day. Try establishing one habit at a time instead of two or three. There’s no reason to rush. Finally, when you being to notice a time of day that works best for your new habit, you can start trying to fit that one minute into there and even doing it for longer than one minute. If you miss your time slot of anything unexpected comes up, just revert to doing one minute of that activity at some point during the day to keep the chain going!
The most important note is not to rush. Just follow the chain and let the refinements bloom on their own. Focus on consistency and have faith that the quality will creep it’s way in over time without forcing it.