First we make our habits, then our habits make us. – Charles C. Noble
Habits are powerful because they create defaults.
Read that one more time: Habits are powerful because they create defaults.
If your defaults — which can be constructive, neutral, or destructive — aren’t working for you, then it’s time to change your habits. (Tweet this.)
Most people trip over this idea because they often don’t see the connection between their habits and their outcomes. Some habits are incredibly empowering, but we don’t realize their strength until they’re absent. And, since many of our destructive habits are tied to deep physical, emotional, or social desires, we quickly return to them.
The goal here is to eliminate, or at least minimize, destructive habits and cultivate and reinforce constructive habits. Easier said than done, amiright? But hear this: When you take the time and effort to create habits that propel you toward your goals and priorities, achieving your goals and being in alignment can become your defaults.
The secret to setting better habits rests with better beginnings. It can be hard to start constructive habits, so you have to make starting them and sticking with them easier — consistency is your friend here. On the opposite track, it’s often quite easy to start destructive habits, so we have to make it harder to start and stick with negative (destructive) habits. Consistency is your enemy here.
I developed the Daily Habit Tracker to help build constructive habits more easily. This habit-tracking tool came about after I worked with clients who had similar needs when it came to tracking different habits: they needed a way to make it super easy to start constructive habits, turn them into the defaults, and stop getting sidelined by their destructive habits.
The Daily Habit Tracker
When I designed the Daily Habit Tracker, I had a few things in mind:
- It’s easier to cultivate a habit when you can see how you’re doing with it. Instead of being hit-or-miss with your habits or relying on memory (“Did I do that yesterday?”), you can track your progress and hold yourself accountable.
- Tracking your progress makes it easier to spot patterns, which you can analyze to figure out what’s stopping you from moving forward. For instance, if your habit streak ends every Tuesday, you should evaluate what about Tuesday is a stumbling block for you. In the same vein, tracking your habits allows you to see what is working for you so that you can maintain those elements and continue the habit streak.
- A habit done daily tends to stick better because it becomes a default for you, making it easier to incorporate it into your schedule more. When you’re inconsistent with a habit, it’s easier for your daily schedule and other factors to displace it. You have to work really hard to prioritize that habit again.
This is all well and good as an exercise in theory but understanding why we need personalized constructive habits will help the habits stick around longer. What constitutes your flourishing will be, and should be, different from mine or anyone else’s. That is, your set of constructive habits will be unique to you. More important than what they are is that you know the reason for them — your why for developing them in the first place.
Why Do You Want to Start New Productive Habits?
When you’re going through the motions of your daily habit, let’s say taking a brisk walk halfway through the work day, it’s not easy to remember why that habit is important to you and why it’s worth the effort. Writing down your habit and its “why” can help with that.
My Daily Habit Tracker* includes a space to write your reason for your new habit. You don’t have to use this space, but I highly encourage it, particularly if you’re starting a new habit or the practice of finding your “why” for an activity is unfamiliar to you. Writing your reasons helps you define the physical, emotional, or social desires tied to your habit.
*NOTE: The Daily Habit Tracker worksheet has space for up to five habits. I recommend not going over five. If you try to tackle more than five, you’ll probably take on too much at once, end up frustrated, and think habits don’t work for you.
Understanding the why, seeing patterns in your own behavior, and allowing your momentum to carry you forward are important steps in building new constructive habits. But there’s another ingredient that will help you be consistent with any new constructive habit: habit stacking.
Use Habit Stacking
Building new, constructive habits doesn’t have to be rocket science. You’ll find it easiest to integrate a habit you want to create into a habit you already have. For example, when I make coffee or tea each morning, I fill in the five-minutes wait with something else, such as playing the guitar or using kettlebells. My typical routine looked like this for a while: Heat water. Bathroom. Drink tea. Guitar. Drink tea. Plan. Drink water. Morning writing. I’ve been able to stack my habits into a flow that really works for me. Your routine will probably look different, but the principles behind it are the same.
For instance, I always make tea before beginning meditation, so if I make tea, I’m going to want to meditate, and if I meditate, I’m going to want to create a To-Do list for the day. It’s become a natural flow for me. On top of these habits, I’ve recently stacked another one: stretching. Now, the sequence is make tea, stretch, meditate, create my to-do list, write. If I try to stretch throughout the day, it doesn’t happen, but if I stack it onto something that happens no matter what (making tea), then it automatically sets off a cue for me. It works really well.
When you implement habit stacking for yourself, you’ll soon find yourself an hour into your day and doing all the things that need to get done. Each one of these items is a micro-habit — just a little thing you can do in a little amount of time. But taken together, they result in a very productive morning for yourself.
Track Your Progress
You likely have a lot of habits you don’t actually keep track of. For instance, you probably don’t need to keep track of brushing your teeth every day. Habits like that wouldn’t go on this worksheet.
Rather, the Daily Habit Tracker is designed to capture habits you really want to focus on cultivating. It could be a daily writing habit or an intentional mindfulness habit. It could be having a daily conversation with your partner where you’re totally present the entire time. It could be working out. It could be reading a book. It could be any number of things.
When you stack your new habit with a habit you’ve already mastered, you can more easily track your progress. Mark whether or not you’ve completed your new habit each day. Review your progress at the end of each week. Notice the days you missed your new habit and see if you can find patterns. Maybe on Tuesdays and Thursdays your kids have to be at school early for sports practice, which interrupts the habits you’re trying to set. If so, adjust things so that you can implement your habit on a daily basis.
None of what I’ve said here is particularly mind-blowing. Lucky for me, I’m not trying to say something new or mind-blowing. We tend to under-reinforce constructive habits in the making and accept our destructive habits are “just the way we are,” so we all need reminders to check whether our defaults are working for us or against us.
Over to you: what destructive habit has crept in that you intend to minimize or eliminate? What constructive habit would you like to cultivate or reinforce? Fundamentally, are your defaults serving you?