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Why I’ve stopped trying to build good habits

November 19, 2014

I love to work on the areas of my life that are not quite what I know they could be. If I had to pick a hobby, personal growth would be it. A few things I’m currently working on:

  • I want to learn to use social media in a healthy way, even if I have to give it up to do so
  • I want to start Writing again (Writing is not the same as filling up a notebook every month; writing plus effort = Writing)
  • I want to become a morning person, at least slightly
  • I want to learn how to enjoy myself when I’m not working (a hazard of doing what you love is that you don’t know what to do when you need to take a break)
  • I want to have people over more often and not be stressed about it
  • I want to get out of my house more
  • I want to be myself, regardless of what other people think
  • I want to be better at helping my kids use and stretch their talents and imagination

(There’s more – so much more – but it’s going to start getting embarrassing soon.)

I don’t see this as focusing on my faults. I am enough, and all that. But I love thinking about what is possible. I don’t have to stay stuck.

The way that I usually start toward a goal is by making a lot of lists, usually involving regular tasks that I then try to turn into habits. For example, I’ve tried getting in the habit of waking up at a certain time every day. Not even an incredibly early time…just a consistent time.

The problem is, I am terrible at making new habits. I think I exhausted my life’s supply of willpower somewhere in the first seven years of business ownership. I have very little left.

Although habits are supposed to eventually become automatic behaviors, I never get to that stage. Even when I’ve done a task regularly for a long time, I still have to use my negligible amount of willpower to make myself do it. (I think those people who say that it takes 28 days to form a habit are lying to us, banking on the assumption that barely anyone makes it that far.)

But I’ve found a way around this. No more habit-building for me. I want to use my willpower to make change that actually has a chance of sticking.

Quit something Thursdays

Have you heard of Bob Goff, the guy who quits something every Thursday? (He also wrote this really great book and does a lot of other wonderful things.) I used to think “Wow, that’s awesome for Bob, but how does he do that? I’d love to quit something every week, but pretty soon I would have nothing left.”

Then I started reading a sort of cheesy, rambly, but very awesome book by Matthew Kelly called The Rhythm of Life (found on Oyster). In it, he talked about addiction. He said that any behavior that you don’t have mastery over is an addiction that is affecting the rest of your life, whether you realize it or not. He said that if you can’t imagine yourself giving something up for 28 days, you’re addicted to it.

“Whether a bird is held by a chain or a thread, still it cannot fly,” quoth San Juan de la Cruz. And so I made a list of my addictions.

  • Sleeping late
  • Maintaining my online identity
  • Staying home
  • Staying up late
  • People-pleasing
  • Achievement and recognition
  • Staying busy
  • Productivity
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Gilmore Girls

(For real on that last one. FOR REAL. I’ve watched almost five seasons in the past six weeks.)

I realized that most, if not all, of these things are closely related to my personal goals. To use social media in a healthy way, I need to break my addiction to upholding my online identity. To become a morning person, I need to break my addiction to staying up late and sleeping in. To get out of my house more, I need to break my addiction to staying home.

That’s when I decided that perhaps quitting things is easier to do than adding more things to my already packed plate. Perhaps if I’m not good at adding more tasks to my life, I can take away some and achieve the same result.

Last Thursday, I quit checking social media. I’m not saying goodbye, I just don’t check it anymore. I have my chosen notifications emailed to me. I may be breaking the rules of “being present”, but I can’t handle my social media liquor. I’ve tried for years. In less than a week, this one little thing has made a profound difference in my emotional state.

This Thursday, I’m quitting Gilmore Girls. Well, not completely; I’m going to watch one episode a week, like God and Warner Brothers intended. (Now I’m going to have to find something else to do with that 15 hours a week…and maybe stop wishing that I lived in Stars Hollow.)

I don’t know what I’ll quit after that, but I’m thinking sleep deprivation is a possibility – I could stop forcing myself to wake up when I haven’t had enough sleep. I may stop spending large portions of the day without human contact. I could stop wearing pajamas past a certain hour. I could give up checking email first thing. I could give up checking my team’s chat room after I’m done working for the day.

The great thing is, I don’t have to quit forever…just until those things no longer have a hold over me. I will quit them until they are no longer limiting my experience, and then at that point, I probably won’t have to think about them at all (except for social media; I suspect my addiction to it is akin to alcoholism – I may never be able to imbibe without going off the deep end).

I think there was a time in my life when it was easier to start adding more things to my life, but this is not one of them. But quitting things? Based on my results so far, quitting things is something I plan on getting verycomfortable with.