7 min read

Prompt 38: Habits

Got a goal? One of the best ways you ensure you meet it is to build healthy habits that take you in that direction. Here's how.
Prompt 38: Habits
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How did you go with the goal setting prompt last week?

If you're anything like me you have a list of goals and in the back of your mind you're wondering how on earth you're going to make them happen!

One of the things that will help with some of our goals is the creation of habits.

I'm not talking about the loose garments worn by religious orders - I'm talking about the "routine of behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously" kind of habit.

This week's prompt is Habits and you can interpret it as you'd like but I suspect most of us will take one of two approaches.

  1. Attempt to form a good habit
  2. Try to break a bad habit

I feel completely unqualified to teach much on this topic as I've had mixed success with both tasks - but here are a few things that I know have worked for me in the past.

1. If I can do something for a month (or two) it tends to stick

One of the best habits that I built a few years back was to go for daily walks. I didn't set out to make it a habit but rather decided to try to walk for 10,000 steps a day for a month.

Photo by Jad Limcaco / Unsplash

I had no goals beyond that month but found that once I reached it my natural inclination was to go for a walk on the 32nd day too.

James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) writes that it takes 66 days of doing something for it to become a new habit. That's a number that is backed up by science so I won't dispute it - but for me I tend to aim for a month and quite often like to start on the first of a month to help me keep track.

2. It helps to tie making a new habit to a current habit

A few years ago I decided that I wanted to be more intentional about checking in with friends.

I'm an introvert so my natural inclination is to lead a pretty inwardly focused life and I needed to find a way to trigger reaching out to others. I decided to set myself a little goal to text or call a friend every day for a month (see point #1).

I lasted about 3 days before I forgot to do it.


I'm not sure where I got the idea (Atomic Habits has it but this was before that) but I decided to tie the forming of a new habit to one I already had.

The current habit that I had was brushing my teeth.

Photo by Alex Padurariu / Unsplash

I decided that every morning as I brushed my teeth I would think of someone to text or call immediately after I finished. I even put a little note on my toothbrush holder to remind me of the task.

I never missed brushing my teeth - so for a whole month I never missed texting or calling a friend!

3. I like to make strings of habits into routines

Please tag @prophsee on Instagram || Photo by @contentpixie
Photo by Prophsee Journals / Unsplash

After a month of texting or calling a friend after brushing my teeth I decided that the strategy had worked so well that I should tie another activity to those other habits.

I decided that every morning after I brushed my teeth and texted a friend tha I would do 10 pushups (and would add 5 pushups to that number after a week).

I practiced this third habit for a month with success and then decided at the end of the month to add situps as a forth practice after the pushups.

The next month I decided that I wanted to add more regular drinking of water to my life and decided that after my teeth brushing, texting of friends, pushups and situps I would fill a large bottle of water that I would have sitting next to me on my desk all day.

The next habit I added was meditating.

Then I added journalling.

I won't go on with the full morning routine that I developed for myself that year but you can see that with the adding of habits to the list that I gradually ended up with a routine.

That routine lasted for several years - until we had kids and morning routines went out the window!

4. Breaking Habits can be done in a similar way

To the negative thoughts that pop up in your mind when under the influence of alcohol.
Photo by Manan Chhabra / Unsplash

Having developed a reasonably good morning routine I decided to see if I could take that idea and develop it for my work life.

I was working for myself as a blogger at this point and had developed a pretty chaotic and spontaneous kind of work routine (and I use the word routine very loosely).

I would sit down at my computer each morning with no plan and would start with whatever was already open on the screen.

Typically it would be email or Twitter and before I knew it I would be down a rabbit warren of answering emails (or Twitter memes) and it would be hours before I would do any real blogging (if I got there at all).

My work habits were bad.

I decided to change things up and when I sat at my desk every morning (the habit I already had) and reached for my computer (the habit I wanted to break) I'd find that my Moleskine notebook would be sitting on top of it (something I would put there as my last act for the day the day before).

Seeing my moleskine notebook would be the trigger to think about planning my day. The only thing I did in that notebook was to write down a to-do list for the day.

The list would consist of up to 3 items that I would rank in order of importance and all of which were more important to me than answering emails and going onto Twitter.

I still do this. Here's today's list of 3 things.

My agenda for the day would be set and I would only check email or Twitter once I had completed my list.

This took some discipline and I had days where chaos reigned again - but in most cases this replacing of bad habits with new ones worked and my productivity went up and my distractability went down.

5. Daily and Weekly Templates

In time I realised that 'routines' worked really well for me and there were certain days of the week and times of the day where I was best to do certain tasks.

As a result of this I came up with a daily routine - a template for each day that ran me through the things I needed to do.

This later evolved into a weekly routine/template.

Here is how it looked.

The details is not likely to make a lot of sense to you as it relates to my own business and situation - but you can see how far I took the idea of developing routines and rhythms for my day.

This evolved quite a bit over time and I had a variety of versions of it but something like this became my computer's wallpaper and I had it printed out and in the front page of my Moleskine.

By no means did I stick to it every day but I did find that over time I didn't need to look at it to remind myself what to do at certain times - because a lot of it became habit.

Today I am far less structured and I don't have a template to organise me - but as I look at that routine quite a bit of it still happens at about the same times of day!

OK - you may have just looked at that weekly template and might be thinking that I'm some kind of organisational ninja (or freak) - but here's my dirty little secret.

I'm hopeless at organising myself.

My Myers Briggs personality profile is INFP and the 'P' stands for 'Perpetually in Chaos' (not really... but really).

I find this stuff doesn't come naturally at all for me (and incidently am currently midway through an ADHD diagnosis). In my natural state that template is not me at all - but I've come to realise over the years that it is because of this that I need to put routines and templates in place - or I'll never get anything done at all.

A couple more quickfire tips:

  • I find that trying to build multiple habits at the same time doesn't work
  • I find that telling people about the habit I'm trying to build helps

Over to You

Books you should definitely read
Photo by Lala Azizli / Unsplash

I went into way more detail today than I set out to do so I'll leave it at that other than to say Atomic Habits is a book that I know has helped a lot of people so it might be a good one to read this week!

Take the prompt how ever you like but do stop by the Facebook Group to let us know how you're going and to share your own habit forming stories and tips!