“Life is fragile. Yet here we are, walking around as if we’ll get to experience life someday after we put in our time and earn a better spot.” – Jesse Eldredge
As we approach the halfway point of 2017 I wanted to bring your attention to a piece written all the way back in early January, “What’s on Your Bucket List in 2017”. In this piece a friend of the blog Jesse talked about living this year as if it were your last on Earth. If 2017 really was your last year, what would it look like? At the time we were all full of ambition and positive thoughts that 2017 would be our year. This was going to be the year we finally launched that podcast, finally quit the 9-5, or bought that gym membership. However, as we end June I look around and see that we’ve all settled back into our routines. I’ve heard a lot more “I want to start this…” than “I just launched this…”.
This isn’t the “last year on Earth” philosophy Jesse preached about back in 2017. If this truly were our last year, we certainly wouldn’t be going out with the “What if people don’t like it” mentality.
Even though it may seem like I have my ducks in a row with a new job, starting the blog, and big ambitions for my content, I’ve been in a creative rut of my own. Between commuting to work, having a 9 hour day and then going to the gym, I haven’t been motivated to write as much. Once you settle into the 9-5 routine in takes an incredible amount of will power to break it. I want to grow the blog and start a podcast but haven’t been strong enough to break through the post work laziness. It’s been real easy for me to chalk up 9 hours of work and an hour of gym time as a productive day. It hasn’t been easy for me to give up the few hours of relaxation for creative content.
Why is this? Why do we start out the year full of hope and ambition, only to fall back into our old ways come June?
I think the main reason is that when things get hard, when the pressure is on, our natural instincts are what we fall back on. This is why they say that when you’re preparing for a job interview, you can’t force body language. If you go into an interview and solely focus on confident body language, you won’t be able to focus on what you say. If you go into an interview focused on what you’re saying and being present with the interviewer, your body language falls back into its natural state. If you’ve trained yourself to have a great sitting posture and confident look, you’ll fall back to that. If you’re like most of us and haven’t trained yourself, your image will falter.
If we take this knowledge and apply it to our everyday lives we would be better off. We can tell ourselves we’re going to make a change, and maybe force it for a short time period. But it will only stick with us when it becomes our natural state, a habit. This is the reason we see so many “resolutioners” in January. They force themselves to go to the gym, having the early year motivation push them through the month. When the schedule tightens, weather gets too cold, or any other inconvenience pops up, they fall back into their old ways and drop it. It HAS to become a habit, something you don’t even think about.
That’s my goal for myself and my audience for the second half of 2017, build productive habits that carry over into the New Year. You are what you repeatedly do. The best time to to start building your habits was yesterday, the second best time is today.
Building a Habit
What better place to start learning how to build a habit than “5 Scientific Ways to Build a Habit“. If you take a look at the list, you won’t be surprised. Subconsciously we are aware of tactics that will help us but until they are laid out in front of us and explained we have a hard time putting them to use. So let’s dive in:
Research around the self-determination theory shows us that creating intrinsic motivators (being motivated to do things internally, not through punishments or rewards) is an essential process of building habits that stick, you need to find a way to balance this desire to dream big with your day-to-day activities, which often do not result in quick, dramatic changes.
Using a reward system will help you short term, but remember, we are in the business of building habits that stick. There has to be a why to what you are trying to do. Why do you want to start a blog? What are you trying to accomplish by starting and keeping up with a blog? Maybe you’re like me and want to help others that go through similar situations. Whenever I’m lacking motivation to write I think about all of the struggles and tough nights, hoping that by putting my experience on paper that someone else can have a little bit more guidance than I had. Having a sense that I’m helping other people is what drives me day and after day.
That’s the macro, the overall reason why I blog. Giving myself reminders helps me when I need a big push (also the reason my first and only tattoo is “Memento Mori”). However, those reminders only take me so far, I need a daily process to get me in my chair writing a piece. To get myself in a position to offer more advice to more people (my overarching goal), then I must spend time every day reading, writing, and promoting. Without those three small daily task, I can’t achieve my big goal.
So think of why you want to build the habit, and set up a daily process that gets you closer to your goal every day. It’s science.
Creating sticky habits is far easier when we make use of our current routines, instead of trying to fight them
Another big one. We try to build these habits by making drastic changes to our every day life. It’s never just “I’m going to fit the gym into my schedule this year”. It starts as “I’m going to wake up at 5am for 365 straight days and never miss a workout”. As we know, this rapid change of our lifestyle is not conducive to sticky behaviors.
If you want to start a blog, start small. Don’t tell everyone that you’re going to put out a piece a day. Focus on creating quality content once a week that fits into your existing schedule. Instead of an extra hour of TV one night, you can spend it writing. That type of change is conducive to becoming a habit.
According to this study from UCLA, the mistake is in what we visualize. Researchers found that those participants who engaged in visualizations that included the process of what needed to be done to achieve the goal (ex: fantasizing about learning another language, by visualizing themselves practicing every day after work) were more likely to stay consistent than their peers
I haven’t done a full piece on visualization but I can’t recommend practicing it enough. This Jim Carrey piece should be enough to sell you.
The study shows that students who visualized themselves practicing speaking French every day stayed more consistent than those who visualized themselves speaking French. This means we need to have a daily visualization practice centered around the steps needed to get us to our goal. Visualize sitting down after work and writing your blog, not the thousands of views you hope to have.
New habits are often very fragile, and it is for this reason that we must eliminate any source of friction that may lead us astray. These “ah-screw-it” moments (hat tip to blogger Derek Halpern) are the specific moments where you find yourself saying, “Screw this, it’s not worth the effort!” A more scientific take on this phenomenon is called the What the Hell Effect, which explains why we are so likely to abandon ship with a new habit at the first slip-up.
As I wrote about earlier, we abandon habits at first sign of trouble. We look for reasons to quit and go back to our comfortable lives. We get a negative piece of feedback, or maybe one of our pieces goes by with no support. That uncomfortable moment when it’s not living up to your expectations or the stress is higher than you thought, that is when habits are born. Did you put in place a process or give yourself enough motivation to keep going?
What Do We Do Now?
We’ve addressed that we haven’t pushed ourselves enough this year. We’ve learned how to start building habits TODAY so that by the time 2018 rolls around we can say we turned things around and put ourselves in a better position to succeed next year.
The glass is still half full, if you’re upset with the beginning of 2017 you still have 6 months to turn the year around. You can still go out of your comfort zone, build positive habits, start something new, and impact peoples lives.
My favorite quote of the year so far is “Turn your insecurities into art”, which is what I aim to do with this blog. Turn my biggest pain points and frustrations into advice and stories that others can learn from. I recommend everyone reading that you also try to turn your insecurities into art. What were your biggest frustrations from the first 6 months? Upset about not going to the gym and dieting? Mad you can’t get over the creative hump?
Write them down and think of the habits you need to install to overcome them. I want to write a piece in December about all of the successes we’ve had during the second part of the year.
Update on the Blog
Middle of the year also means mid-year update on this project. I’ve been focusing on long-form pieces through the first 6 months but realize I’d like to do a slight pivot. I enjoy researching topics and writing in the 1800-2100 word range, but it’s not sustainable for frequent content. I’ll be adding more lifestyle pieces throughout the week while I work on my longer post.
I’ll be touching on topics such as careers, health, and the day to day grind. A good example of a similar blog is www.kaplifestyle.com. The author Gabe Kapler is a former professional baseball player that writes about health, lifting, food, and small pieces on motivational topics. Doing the lifestyle pivot will also allow me to get my friends involved more. I have a great support group who can talk about what’s important to them and educating all of us.
Thank you for the support over the first 6 months! Expect A LOT more content soon and please please please subscribe below to follow the whole thing. Also hit me with a follow on Twitter to see the posts there too.