Not long ago, my daily life was in really bad shape. I was sleeping anywhere between 3am to 6am on average, and on the really bad days I wouldn’t sleep at all. Because I slept late, I would wake up late. Subsequently, my day would start off late, which meant I was busy “playing catch-up” and being late for my appointments. My diet was horrendous – I was eating lots of junk food and snacks at night to stay awake. It got worse month after month, and I didn’t want to continue on. I needed to revamp my lifestyle!
I picked out 9 habits I wanted to cultivate for the next 21 days, such as: (1) Sleeping at/before 12am, (2) Waking up at 5am, (3) Reading a book or listening to a podcast at least once a day, (4) Meditating, (5) Being timely for my appointments (6) Even eating a raw food diet! #6 might be a bit of an overkill for some people, but hey – since it was just for 21 days, I thought I might as well try something different for a change.
I’m extremely happy to report that nearly all my habits have stuck. My life has become significantly organized. I wake up early, I get to all my appointments early/on time, I get my work done, I meditate, I’m eating raw, and I sleep on time. Out of the 9 habits, 8 habits stuck, while 1 habit was let go because I realized it wasn’t something I wanted to work on for now. Compared to my previous lifestyle, this has been a total 180 degree turnaround.
Some people might think this positive change is exclusive to me, that perhaps I have some incredible determination, persistence or discipline to pull this off. I don’t want to disappoint, but it’s not. In fact, truth be told, I consider myself a very undisciplined person. What I do have though, are 6 specific tips that have been critical in enabling my lifestyle change. These have helped my new habits stick.
If you have been trying to cultivate new habits with little success, then you might find these very useful. These habits are not rocket science – they are easy to understand, apply and have worked tremendously for me.
Here they are:
Address the root cause of the issue, not the effect. Desperately battling with yourself every morning to wake up at 5:30am is to address the effect. Understanding why you keep failing to wake up at 5:30am is to address the cause.
For example, I couldn’t wake up early for the longest time ever, and all I kept doing is to keep trying and failing the next day. This would continue on for several months until I finally realized it was just going nowhere. I began to start analyzing my situation to understand why I couldn’t wake up early, through a self-questioning process. I probed into the situation, and asked myself “why” this was happening to drill down to the root cause.
Below is an example of the drilling process:
Getting down to this root cause helped me realize two things (1) All our habits are tied to one another (sleeping time, waking time, timeliness) (2) I underestimate the time taken to finish the tasks (and subsequently overestimate how fast I can do those tasks). Many times, I would target to finish multiple projects in 1 day, which wasn’t possible at all.
This meant that to make my waking early habit stick, (1) I need to change habits that are related to waking early (see Tip #2) and (2) I have to be more realistic in my planning. Rather than stuff in so many tasks for a day and not finishing them, now I go for a challenging yet achievable schedule and complete my tasks accordingly.
Keep asking why to drill down to the root reason. Once you get to the real cause, you can immediately resolve the issue.
Our habits are not standalone; they are interlinked. Some habits have a stronger linkage with each other than others. For example, sleeping early and waking early are obviously linked to each other, while sleeping early and reading a book a day might not be so closely related. If you want to cultivate a habit, identify the other habits that are tied with it and make a holistic change. These habits will reinforce each other to help make the change seamless.
For example, my new habits to: (a) Wake up early at 5am (b) Sleep before 12am (c) Be on time (d) Meditate (e) Have raw food diet are all interlinked.
Having a schedule lets you know when you are on or off track for your habits. For the 1st day of my new lifestyle, I did a full-day planning and continued thereafter for all other days.
What I do is this:
With all this planning done, when the next day comes all I have to do is to follow the schedule to a tee. I keep a close watch on the timing to ensure I’m on time. 5 minutes before it’s up, I do a wrap up and start transiting to the next task on the list.
The beauty of having a precise schedule is it helps me know exactly when I’m taking more time than desired, and this helps me work on being more efficient. There are some timings which absolutely have to be protected, such as my sleeping/waking times and appointment times, so in that sense the time allocated on my tasks are fixed. That means I have to work more efficiently.
It may seem like a hassle, but it really isn’t. It just takes me about 10 minutes to get each day’s schedule done. Not surprisingly, I have allocate time in my daily schedule to do my scheduling for the next day (11-11:10pm). All you have to do is create a template once, and then you can reapply this template for the other days. There will be similar items across all out days that can be reapplied, such as waking/breakfast/commuting/working/dinner/sleeping times, so it’s really very straight forward.
If you don’t plan for when exactly to get the habit done and instead just arbitrarily say that you want it to be done sometime today, then there’s a very high chance it might not get done. This is why most people’s habits don’t stick. Other things will invariably keep popping in and you’d engage them without realizing it and throw your schedule off track. From there, other things get pushed back and you never get to carry out your habit.
I found it’s extremely motivating to stay ahead. Waking up early at 5am means I’m ahead of most people in the world (and myself too, if I were to stick to my old schedule), and that motivates me to work fast and stay ahead. What helps me continue this momentum is that I end my tasks earlier and start the next task before the scheduled timing. By ensuring I stay ahead of my schedule, I’m naturally motivated to work on all the things I have planned, including my habits. There’s no resistance to get them started at all.
If a task is taking more time than needed, then I make a choice. Either I:
This decision-making process is important, because otherwise you will end up playing catch-up for the rest of the day, which affects all your planned habits/activities. Subsequently, it also affects your will to maintain your habits. Stay ahead of your schedule and you will find it easier to stay motivated.
Tracking keeps you accountable to your habits. I have a whiteboard in my bedroom which I use to track my habits. On the whiteboard, I drew a large table, split by days (21 days to cultivate a new habit) and by habits. For the days where I do the habit, I will give it a check. For the days I don’t, I make a cross. It’s very satisfying to do the checks every time you finish a habit! You can also track your habits on paper or in your computer.
Here are some great habit trackers online:
Engagement can occur on 2 levels – (a) Active engagement, where you inform your friends who might be interested in and cultivate the habit together with them or (b) Passive engagement, where you let others know about your plans and having them morally support you.
I had both forms of support in my habit change. 2 days before I started my lifestyle revamp program, I posted an article on my blog, The Personal Excellence Blog, on the new 21-day Lifestyle Revamp Program I was taking on. I wrote in detail about the rationale behind the program, the benefits, the habits I was taking on and how I was going to achieve my goals. I also invited them to join me too in cultivating new habits. Much to my pleasant surprise, many readers responded in enthusiasm on new habits they wanted to cultivate and joined me in the 21-days of change.
For my raw food diet, I told my mom that I’m just eating fruits and salads for the next 3 weeks, and she began to stock up the house with fruits like bananas, grapes and strawberries. In fact, I just finished a box of strawberries from typing this post. Yesterday, I went to watch How To Train A Dragon with my friend, and filled him in on my raw food diet. He then kept a look out for the restaurants we could dine in for that night. In the end I had warm baby spinach salad for dinner. My first time having it – can’t say I like it, but it’s nice for a change :D.
Don’t feel that you’re alone in your habit change because you aren’t. There are always people around you who are more than willing to support you.
My new habits have pretty much been integrated into my daily life now. Everything runs on auto-pilot and it feels like I’ve been doing this for a long while. My personal tips above have worked tremendously for myself, so while they may look simple and straightforward, don’t underestimate them. Try them out for yourself and let me know how your new habits are coming along for you.
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