Habits are funny creatures.
They more time you feed and continue a habit, the more it grows and the easier it becomes to maintain. However, if broken for even a few days, the harder it becomes to jump back into that habit.
I’ve seen that time and time again in relation to writing.
My grandfather died a few weeks back and it threw me for a little bit of a loop, thinking about funerals and burials and such, so I stopped writing. Once I realized I was out of that rhythm, I looked at the idea of writing like a city boy examining the opening of a large and mysterious cave: it just seems like so much work. It’s hard to get back into it.
This has applications to so many different areas of life, doesn’t it?
For those that have been out of school, going back can seem almost impossible. You’re out of the habit.
If you haven’t blogged for a long time it seems really hard to get back in. You’re out of the habit.
If you haven’t spent intentional time with God in a few days, you can get out of the habit. I’ve been there.
So how do you get back in if you’ve been out?
1. Make a small contribution in the right direction
If you haven’t done something in a while, I don’t think you’re going to be motivated to write a book, but you can probably do something small.
Write a tiny blog post.
Take a single easy class.
Spend a few minutes with a short Scripture.
Create something small.
For me, this is usually enough to break me out of it. The scariest part is taking the first step back. A project always seems monstrous before you’ve started, but just start. Write a few words and complete it.
2. Be intentional about making it a habit
Charles Duhigg, author of Habits: Why We Do What We Do, says that habits actually exist in a different part of the brain. Most behaviors begin in the prefrontal cortex, the area right behind the forehead. Habits, on the other hand, exist in the basil ganglia: the area at the very center of our brain.
And when things happen in the basal ganglia, it doesn’t feel like thought. That’s why a habit feels automatic, is because it’s happening in this part of your brain that for all intents and purposes, from what we think of as thinking, is completely exempt from that process.
This one is also really fascinating and sobering:
And what we’ve learned is that a huge amount of whether a company succeeds or fails is based not on sort of the big strategy decisions that people make, but on the habits that emerge within the organization.
Let that sink in for a moment. Most of the success of a company and leaders depends on the kinds of habits that they keep and introduce. Wow.
So how do you make something a habit so that it feels automatic? I’ve found that something has to happen daily in order for it to become an ingrained habit. I don’t think about brushing my teeth or shaving. It’s just part of what I do every morning.
In relation to writing on this blog, I’ve typically done something around three times per week. I’m considering perhaps doing something small every day. There’s a tension inside of me, though, because I’m thinking about you. Yes, you. I don’t want to flood your inbox. Maybe I could do really tiny posts and a few larger ones. Will you join me on this journey? Will you hang in there? We’ll see what happens.
I think the biggest lesson, to summarize, is to take small intentional steps every day.
Write a little bit.
Read a little bit.
Exercise a little bit.
The huge is scary. Binging can’t be sustained. But I can do small most of the time. That’s what I’m aiming for, anyway.
So what have you learned about habits and keeping them? To leave a comment click here.
[image by Adam Franco]
Here’s a few interesting quotes I found in relation to habits:
“Good habits, once established, are just as hard to break as are bad habits.” -Robert Puller
“First we make our habits, then our habits make us.” -Charles Noble
“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” -Colin Powell
“Successful people are simply those with successful habits.” -Brian Tracy
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle