The Habit of Forming Habits

Almost all my life I was in the habit of thinking that habits were bad. When my parents talked about habits, the conversation usually tended toward smoking, nail-biting, drinking too many sodas, or some other something that one of us was doing that we weren’t supposed to. For a long time I would even cringe when someone mentioned their “habits”. Habits were simply things that needed to change but you knew they never would.

Then something shifted. Several years ago I read a quote in a book by Dan Miller that said that the first hour is the “rudder of the day” and that whatever you do in that hour sets the tone for the rest of the day. I thought that was awesome and for a few days, I paid close attention to how I spent that first hour. Before long though, life got in the way and every day got started differently. Some were good starts but most were not. To fix that, I needed to create something that would last. I needed to start a habit.

With rare exception, for the past (almost) five years, our days have started the exact same way, no matter what the day and no matter how much work we have to do later on. We get out of bed, open the blinds to greet the world, feed the cat, sit down with a cup of coffee, and read a book. Call it habit, call it routine, call it whatever you want but trust me, it really does work to help us start the day in a more mellow, mindful way.

Since January is the month we traditionally make New Year’s Resolutions, I decided now was a good time to take a closer look at creating other good habits. There’s a lot of science behind the formation of habits. I won’t bore you with those details but basically, all habits – good or bad – are formed in the same way. A reminder (or cue) alerts the brain to perform an action (or routine) in order to receive a reward. My alarm goes off every morning at 7 AM (the cue), telling my brain to activate our morning sequence (the routine). I get out of bed, look outside, hear the cat purring for breakfast and the water boiling in the kitchen, and I know that in a few minutes I’ll be nestled in my nook on the couch sipping coffee and reading my latest book choice (the reward).

Forming habits sounds easy enough when you think about it that way but getting the brain on board is harder than it seems…especially when the reward is not so instantaneous. As someone who has made and broken New Year’s resolutions all in the same week before, I can attest to the fact that forming good habits is hard. Every year, I resolve to keep a journal and every December I look back at a lovely notebook full of blank pages after March. This past year, I did a little better job. I made it through August with actual entries in my bullet journal before dropping down to simply logging how far we walked and whether we ate meat that day. To form good habits, some of us need a little help and in the age of technology, there really is an app for that.

My 2018 habits on HabitShare.

I recently saw a post on Instagram for an app called HabitShare. Its a habit tracking app that allows you to connect with friends for extra accountability. Angie and I signed up and each entered the habits we wanted to create (or continue) in 2018. By connecting with one another, we receive notifications of when one of us completes an action within our chosen habit. The app itself will remind you to check in too, which is good when you’re trying to create a new habit of logging your habits. I’m not sure how well I like the app yet since it has only been a week but so far I find it pretty straightforward and easy to use.

Another app that I just reincorporated into my repertoire is Diaro, an online journal that syncs across multiple platforms. I installed it on my phone, my Kindle, and my laptop so that I can journal wherever I may be. Like HabitShare, it also sends me a reminder when I haven’t journalled for the day. I’ve used Diaro off and on for a few years and I really like it. You can create different layouts for your journal or even have several different types of journals. You can also add photos to your posts. I’m not sure if Diaro allows sharing though. Personally, I don’t want to share my journal with the world so I’ve never checked for that feature.

Along with the “Better Me” habits listed above, we also want to get in the habit of doing a few things toward creating a “Better World”, like remembering to always use our cloth grocery bags and produce sacks, taking our own cup and straw to restaurants, and buying local whenever possible.

What about you? Are you starting any new habits this year? Continuing any old ones that really work well? We’d love to hear your habit story.

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