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Three Sure-Fire Ways to Create and Maintain Habits

Word on the street is that the most successful people are the most habitual people. Habits force you to set boundaries and make choices that honor your goals on a daily basis. Good habits, like eating healthily, practicing your craft, keeping your living space clean, are a form of self-respect.

Forming good habits are hard and require constant self-discipline. Here are three tips that I am using to help me:

1. Identifying the positive value you gain from the task. This can help remind you why you’re having a turkey sandwich instead of pizza or making the bed even though you really don’t feel like it. A task is much easier to repeat each day when you clearly understand its benefit. So, make a list of why you’re doing it.

For example, I want to a write a rough draft every morning because it:

  • Stimulates my mind and boosts my sense of self
  • Makes for a happier day
  • Sets the tone for a productive day
  • Absolutely ensures that I will practice writing that day (My goal is to become a better writer)
  • Usually means I will write again in the afternoon

I’ve posted my benefit list over my desk. This reminds me why I am sacrificing sleeping past six, a morning work out, or diving into other projects.

2. Identify What You Will Sacrifice. Life is filled with enticing options and committing to a habit means we must sacrifice. And sacrificing can be a big downer. Here’s a few things one must consistently sacrifice to build daily habits:

  • Spontaneity. It’s a gorgeous morning but I am not headed to the beach with the pooch or wandering down Fillmore for a coffee. Nope. I am at my desk writing my rough draft.
  • Laziness and procrastination. Sorry snooze button and Facebook, I will not be checking in this morning.
  • Making other people happy. The friend that really wants to have coffee, the emails I need to send, the errands I must run, will have to wait. This is the time I have designated completely to my writing. It’s non-negotiable.
  • Stuff we’d like to do. I am a morning person and want to do everything in the morning, go to the gym, have coffee with my husband, call friends, work on a number of projects, send emails, read my RSS—you get the idea. I am choosing to sacrifice these actions and prioritizing this task. Again, it’s non-negotiable.
Information is power. By identifying potential sacrifices, I am better prepared to deal with them when they arise.

3. Create a ritual.
In one of my favorite books on creativity, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp writes that:

“It’s vital to establish some rituals—automatic but decisive patterns of behavior—at the beginning of the creative process when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.”

I’ve tried this; it works and well. My ritual is moving into my study and closing the curtains, (it has curtains for a door). The entire action triggers my creative process and seems to cut off the noise in my head. It’s grounding. It’s something you can count on to move you from the moment of uncertainty into your process. It’s something you do daily without questioning the reason. 

“Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, ‘Why am I doing this?’ The ritual erases the question of whether or not I like it. It’s also a friendly reminder that I am doing the right thing. (I’ve done it before. It was good. I’ll do it again.)”Tharp, The Creative Habit

As my seaweed tendencies make it difficult for me to honor commitments to myself, I am tracking my progress and posting about it every Wednesday on my blog, Behind the Make Up. I am calling this the “Habit Project.” If you have a habit you’d like to develop, be it jogging each day, journaling for ten minutes before bed, returning all emails first thing in the morning, buying less coffee—whatever—I would love you to join me. Leave your habit in a comment below and then post about your progress on Wednesday. I will be working on writing a rough draft every morning at the same time.