By Leo Babauta
If you’ve had any success with this month’s reading challenge, you’ve been reading more than usual. Even if you haven’t been perfect about your challenge, celebrate that success! It’s easy to overlook our accomplishments as we focus on our shortcomings.
But will you now just drop the reading habit, now that the month is coming to a close?
I’d like to encourage you to set yourself up for continued success â€” set up a practice environment so that you don’t just drop the habit, but that you carry the momentum forward.
In this article, I want to talk about three things to help with this topic:
- Things that stand in the way
- How to set up the right environment
- How to fit it in with other habits going forward
Let’s dive in!
Things That Stand in the Way
What makes it so easy to drop a habit once you’ve spent a month getting it going? I’m sure many of you have experienced this â€” and if you haven’t, you might be on the verge of experiencing it right now.
Here are the most common reasons why a habit gets dropped:
- You take it lightly, thinking that it’s easy now that you’ve done so well. Then other things get in the way (see below) and you drop it. This is very common, because when we think we’re really good at a habit, we tend to take it for granted and then get lax about it. The antidote is taking it seriously.
- You get busy. A project comes up, you have visitors, you travel, someone gets ill, etc. So naturally, the new habit will fall by the wayside. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but the problem is that we let the dropping of it get in the way, feel guilty, and then avoid even thinking about starting again. The antidote is to do the smallest version of the habit when you’re busy, if possible (even just 5 minutes), or if you can’t, just put it aside and start small at the soonest possible moment.
- You put it off because of distractions. I don’t need to explain this one, we’re all very familiar with it. Starting your day off with the rush of online things and messages on the phone is very tempting, and habits tend to get pushed to the side when faced with this kind of urge. The antidote is to have a solid commitment and have other hold your commitment if you start to fall off it.
There are other problems (a lack of belief in yourself, a habit of beating yourself up if you fail, etc.) but these are some of the most common ones.
How to Set Up the Right Environment
The basic idea is to be committed, and then to hold that commitment by starting again if it falls off for any reason. And then don’t let missing the habit get in the way â€” it’s not a problem if you just start again.
Don’t underestimate the power of setting up your environment to be conducive to your habit success. Here are some things you can do â€” and these work for most habits:
- Have a solid commitment. Write it down. Check on it daily. Check in with a friend or group weekly.
- Get help if needed. You might not need an accountability group or partner in your second or third month of a habit. But if it falls off and you have trouble starting again, ask someone for help and commit to them.
- Focus on the joy of it. It’s good to have a solid commitment to hold you in the space of doing the habit, but it’s not all serious. Now that you’re held in this space, relax into it. Smile. Have a nice cup of tea or coffee. Enjoy the experience. Create stillness and silence and solitude, and bask in those luxuries.
- Create new reminders. When you first start a habit, it’s essential that you put visual and digital reminders where you’ll see them so you don’t forget. By now, you might not need them as much. Instead of dropping them, though, switch them up. Put your book on the kitchen or coffee table so you’ll see it at the right time. Put a note near your tea kettle so you’ll remember to read and start some tea. We tend to tune out old reminders, so create new ones when that happens.
- Keep a review going. You might not need a weekly review at this point, but it’s still good to do it in the second month. Then switch to twice a month, then monthly. This way, you can adjust if things fall off, and you can pat yourself on the back if things are going well.
I would consider all of those ideas if you want to keep the habit going, or any habit going, really.
How to Fit It In With Other Habits
OK, you’re clear on how to keep it going … but what about other habits you might want to add next month or in the following months? How do we keep all the habits in our lives, fitting them into an already cramped space?
One of our members, Helen, came up with a realization that will help with this:
All habits are not equal.
Helen wrote to me: “Seeing this really helps. Some habits are of daily importance e.g. meditation – grounding, and opening in awareness. Some are built into a natural weekly flow e.g. I do Yoga in the evening, except no yoga Sunday. And Wednesdays, Yoga is in the mornings. Then for other habits itâ€™s a free for all!”
I really love this. I have experimented with different mixes, and will probably continue to do so as my interests change, as my environment changes, and as I change. But the mix should include different frequencies of habits, depending on how important they are to you right now. By allowing some habits to float freely, or others to be only weekly, you create more space. This is really lovely.