As part of my goal to become financially stable, I have, for the past two years, worked on developing the habits that Tom Corley identified as “habits of rich people.” Not because they’re habits of rich people, or because I think they will make me rich (if they did that, I’d be a lot better off than I am, maybe even rich, because I’m now at a point where I do most of those habits every day now), but because they’re the same habits that I believe happy people have.
Happy people accomplish things, they don’t observe life from the couch. Happy people take care of their health, they don’t let their body deteriorate through inactivity. Happy people challenge themselves to learn something new every day. For happy people, education doesn’t end when they finish school.
And so it has been for me.
But along the way, there have been some blips, because forming new habits, and even more, getting rid of old habits, is a difficult thing to do.
The “experts” in habit formation will tell you that it takes twenty one days or so to develop a new habit.
I say, maybe. If you’re starting from zero, and you’re not trying to displace a habit you’ve already developed, that might be the case. If you’ve got a bad habit that you’d like to get rid of, developing a new habit in its place is a good way to do it, but your brain will still remember the old habit, and it will take longer than 21 days to stick. And if you miss, you may find it so very easy to slide back into your old ways.
An example of a habit I found easy to acquire: I don’t think it took me longer than twenty one days to accustom myself to a daily hot bath and brushing my teeth daily. I like being clean, and I like the way my mouth feels after brushing, and I enjoy the relaxing aspect of a hot bath before bed. I find that now if I think I’m too tired to have a bath and brush my teeth, and attempt to go to bed without doing those things, I’m up within half an hour to finish my before bed routine.
My daily walk took even less time to become habit, because I found a way to make myself accountable. I got a paper route. Actually, I have five paper routes. Six days per week, I deliver between seventy-five and eighty-five papers, and I’m paid to do it. I’ve only been able to skip a couple of days, because it takes three people to replace me! So one way to make a new habit stick is to find a way to make yourself accountable to someone else.
That’s part of why NaNoWriMo works well for me–there’s this little widget thingy that tracks the days you write and don’t write, and if that doesn’t work, there’s a graph. I set a goal this year to write every day, and to keep on writing every day once November was over, graph or no graph.
Which is why I know that sometimes it takes more than twenty-one days to acquire a new habit. Because November is 30 days long, and I made myself write every day, and it still doesn’t feel like a habit. I have to force myself in a way that I don’t need to force myself to exercise or to brush my teeth. Why the difference?
For one thing, writing isn’t fun like going for a walk and saying hello to lots of friendly people (people who read the paper are invariably interesting, I find). Nor is it comforting like a hot bath. It’s WORK! Not only that, it’s work that takes away from something I was doing before that IS fun–specifically, playing computer games and Stumbling around the web. And now that November is over, it’s just me and my computer, with no-one to notice if I skip a day.
Which I did. Friday the 13th, I was feeling the after effects of staying up until one in the morning (to watch The Hobbit premiere, if you must know), and I wasn’t feeling too great. Delivering my papers in blowing snow and freezing cold didn’t help any, so I spend as much of the day in bed as I could, and I was back in bed by 8:30.
No writing. Not a single word.
Which brings me to a handy little rule I read somewhere, that seems apropos.
Don’t skip twice. Every once in a while, we’re going to fall down. We’ll be sick, or busy, or just not feel like it.
That’s fine–take a sick day. But the next day, do your best to get back in the saddle, even if it’s just for a very short time.
If your goal is to eat at home, and you end up at McDonald’s one day, give yourself a pass and get back in the groove the next day. If you’re trying to keep your room clean, and you don’t make your bed one day, let it go. Just get up the next day and make your bed.
Don’t skip twice.
I wrote this post on Saturday the 14th. Still not high energy, but I’m determined to make writing every day a habit. I’ll do my best to make myself write every single day, but if I miss, well…
I’ll write the next day without fail.