Define your habits

Some goals are so vague that they’re difficult to quantify, much less achieve. “Get in shape.” “Be more positive.”  The same problem arises with habits. If you’re struggling to acquire a habit, there’s a good chance that you need to redefine it.

When you’re defining a habit, narrow it down to a specific action, performed at a specific time, in response to a specific cue. Habits form when you associate an action with a cue. If you haven’t defined those actions and cues, you’re not likely to develop a habit.

So instead of vowing to “Exercise daily,”  make a plan: “On weekdays, I’ll go to the gym right after work. On Saturday, I’ll do an early morning yoga class. Every Sunday, I play tennis with Mike at 2:00.”  After a while, daily exercise starts to feel as natural–and as necessary–as eating and sleeping every day, but it takes some thought and planning and effort to get to that point.

If you’re struggling with a habit, ask yourself if it’s really more of a goal than a habit. For example, Simplification was one of my habits, and I defined it as, “Do something to simplify my life every day.”  That’s not specific or actionable enough to become a daily habit, but it’s certainly a worthwhile goal. To achieve that, I’m starting with these habits:

  • Every Sunday evening after doing the housecleaning routine, I will scan papers (bills, contracts, research materials, etc.)
  • Every Monday evening after supper, I will choose an item to donate, give away, or sell through eBay or Amazon.com.

These actions won’t result in Zen-like simplicity, but they’ll get me moving  in the direction I want to go.

What habit do you need to rethink and redefine?