It’s Wednesdsay and I haven’t been to the grocery store yet this week. My stomach feels full but a little off and my heart is beating faster than usual. This morning I ate a breakfast sandwich at Cumberland Farms before dropping my car off for service and It’s only 8 am and I’m anxious. I usually to the grocery store on Monday. This week I had to work late and didn’t get to go.
I’m much more comfortable when I’m in a normal routine. If I had gone to the grocery store on Monday I would have had something healthy to eat for breakfast. But not this week. It’s Wednesday and I still haven’t been to Big Y this week, and I’ve got a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich in my gut from Cumberland Farms.
So what’s the big deal with food shopping on Monday? I don’t know. At some point I started going to Price Chopper on Mondays to supply myself with food for the week. How did I start that habit? I can’t remember.
But, I think it’s a good habit. For the most part my cabinets and refrigerator stay stocked with food, most of it reasonably healthy, and I only need to brave the grocery store once a week. Usually.
There are a lot of other habits that I’ve tried to form, but they just don’t seem to stick. Recently, I decided it would be a good idea to start tracking my nutrition with the “Myfitnesspal” app. It’s an app that helps you log what you eat and track your calories and nutritional intake over the course of a day, so you can figure out why you’re so fat, or something like that.
There are a variety of different ways to input each meal, including a UPC scanner. They make it pretty easy. My plan was to use it to track what I ate for a week, which seemed like a really reasonable goal to set.
I didn’t make it past lunch the first day. I got hungry, I starting eating some peanuts, and didn’t feel like putting it in the app. And that was it. I stopped using the app for good.
This seems to be characteristic of my resolve when attempting to form good habits. I’ve also tried to journal every day, read every day, reach out to friends more often, and do my expense report on time. All to very limited success.
But, I go to the grocery store every Monday. That is a habit. Also, I rarely go more that 2 days without exercising, I floss and brush my teeth every night, and I have fairly consistent routine that I follow each morning of making breakfast, doing some chores, and meditation. So, why is it so hard to form good new habits, and why is it that some of them do actually stick and become part of a routine? Why is it so hard to give up bad habits like smoking, eating junk food, or swearing, even when you know they have negative consequences? Why does it seem like we can’t choose our habits?
As an outside salesperson, I spend a lot of time in the car. I use podcasts to pass the time and I listen to a lot of content about business and self improvement because it makes me feel like I’m doing something useful. At least I feel like it, anyway. That’s something, I guess.
Somewhere along the way I got turned on to James Clear who is an expert on habits. He wrote a book on it, titled “Atomic Habits”. The basic idea is that you find good habits that you can start, or bad ones that you can eliminate or modify. These don’t have to be monumental efforts, like overhauling your diet to Paleo or Vegan, or training for a marathon. You can start small, like unplugging your TV after you’re done watching it. That way you think twice before turning it on again. Ideally you avoid turning on the TV, which would inevitably be followed by you plopping down on the couch and wasting a few hours of your life binging on Netflix.
Making these tiny changes results in small gains in productivity or accomplishments and helps you make minor strides towards your goals, which over time add up, compound, and blossom into major achievements.
Clear, the author of Atomic Habits had been seriously injured in high school when he was struck in the head by a baseball bat during a game. He had a long and difficult journey, but was able to make a full recovery, and eventually graduated high school, and was accepted at Denison University where he made the baseball team. The gratitude he had for earning a spot on the college roster motivated him to create habits and routines to ensure he made the best of his opportunity.
He created rigorous study habits and earned honor roll grades. He created exercise habits and grew stronger. He even created habits that kept his room clean and tidy which gave him a feeling of control over his future that helped him succeed.
In his senior year, Clear was named top male athlete and awarded the President’s Medal at Denison University and named to the ESPN Academic All America Team. After college, he continued developing, studying, and writing about habits. He started a blog and website, and then wrote a book.
So how do you start a new habit?
Clear recommends that you use the three “R’s”: Reminder, Routine, and Reward.
Reminder is the “trigger” that initiates the behavior.
Routine is the behavior itself.
Reward is the benefit you gain from the habit.
I like the idea. I find it very difficult to start new habits.
If I could gain more control of the ability to form new habits, if nothing else I would feel like I had more control over my life on a day to day basis and who knows, maybe I could even develop a writing habit and get a blog out more often than once a month. That would be amazing.
So, I’m going to start out with a layup. Something easy, but also something that will make an impact. I’ve been really stressed out at work lately. My sales numbers aren’t where they need to be. I’ve got a lot of potential things I’m working on that should get me back to where I want to be, but it hasn’t materialized yet. So, more than anything, I spend a lot of time worrying, which doesn’t help.
What I’d like to do is start a habit of preparing for my work day on the day before. Usually I wake up each morning and my mind just kind of jumps around thinking about all the things that I need to do. And worrying about all of them. Just one thing after the other, worrying, and stressing, then on to the next thing.
If I make my to do list the day before, I’ll start each day with a plan, and following the plan will hopefully help me avoid the worrying and stressing. I’ll just need to start my To Dos, and then no need to worry. It will also give me a chance to think about everything I’ll need for the day in advance, so I can make sure it is all ready to go.
I’m going to try to start one new habit. I’m going to use the 3 Rs. Here it goes:
Reminder: Before I head home for the day
Routine: Make my to do list for the following day, and write out what I will need to bring with me.
Reward: Head home for the day, which is always a nice feeling, and will hopefully reenforce the habit.
The Paper Clip Strategy
So making good habits is a good idea. Duh. But, how do I make sure that I keep my habit going. One strategy suggested in “Atomic Habits” is to use visual cues. Making progress is rewarding in itself. To re enforce this reward, Atomic Habits suggests using a visual measure. The book provides the example of salesman who placed a paperclip into a jar for every sales call he made each day. He started with a pile of 120 paperclips and wouldn’t stop making phone calls until all the clips were in the jar. Within a year and a half, he was bringing in $5 million in sales. $5 million in sales would certainly do it for me right now.
Instead of paper clips I’m going to use a chart on my refrigerator. I’ll check off each day with the goal of repeating my new habit 30 times. Hopefully 30 days of repetition will be enough to make the habit stick. We’ll see.
Atomic Habits is a good read. I recommend checking it out. I have it both in print and audio, so you can certainly find it in your preferred format. There’s a link for Amazon at the bottom of the page if you’d like to check it out there.
I’m purposely picking what I hope is an easy habit to start. This should give me the best chance of success, but probably makes this blog post even less interesting. My thought is that after I successfully implement one new habit, it will be easier to add more, and I can take on more difficult and more impactful habits as I go.Anyway, I’ll be posting updates on Instagram and you can follow along at @keepurdayjob if you wish.