By Leo Babauta
It sounds like many of you are doing great with your habits this month, which means you’re learning and practicing the skills.
Others are struggling, which is fine … just take note of the skills we’re learning and practice them starting now, or next month if necessary.
Let’s dig into some of your questions about your habits so far …
Q: I would like to double my time to 10 mins next. It goes quickly and I feel ready for it. If I find I’m procrastinating with it I would cut back to 6 or 7 mins … do you recommend going for 10 or starting with smaller increments?
Leo: Smaller increments, definitely. Always increase less than you think you can do. If you think you can go from 5 minutes to 10, just do 7. Make it exceedingly easy on yourself, because the most important thing is consistency, not doing it for longer.
Q: How can I be mindful at doing my habit when I feel stressed and as if there isn’t time?
Leo: This is a good problem to be aware of! We often feel this way, and it stops us from forming good habits, because we want to rush to other things. Just do the habit for one minute â€” you have one minute! And do it mindfully during that one minute. Be mindful of your urge to rush to other things.
Q: If the habit is part of your morning routine, what to do when you’re in a hurry and are tempted to skip it?
Leo: See the above answer â€” just do one minute, and do it mindfully, and watch your urges and anxiety mindfully. This is a very important practice.
Q: Having followed your tips through the weeks, I have now started to plan in advance more in order to achieve the habit. I am thinking that there will always be the odd time when I may not be able to achieve my habit, and as long as the number of times is very low, this will be ok. Is this ok?
Leo: Yes, of course … you don’t need to be perfect with the habit. Just one clarification, in case you’re trying to do the habit at various times during the day: always do the habit at the same time, after the same trigger. For example, right after your morning shower, or right when you wake up. Don’t plan ahead to find the time … do it consistently after the same trigger, so that it becomes automatic and doesn’t need planning after awhile.
Q: I still struggle with the negativity surrounding missing a day. It “should be” so simple…
Leo: It’s great that you’re aware of this! That tells me that you have more awareness than most. Celebrate that success! Now that you’re aware of the negativity, and the “should be” that you’ve idealized … just watch this non-judgmentally. It’s OK to have these negative feelings, and to have an ideal … but also let them pass on, because negative feelings always pass after awhile. Then do the habit anyway. Let the ideal float away too, and don’t hold too tightly to it. Things aren’t always simple.
Q: Can you talk some more about boredom please. I am often paralyzed by boredom. I try to take on new challenges (online courses, projects in the garden or crafts), and I enjoy doing these things, but the boredom is always there in the background, I’m not really committed. Even when I’m talking to friends, family or colleagues I’m often feeling bored. Even the Sea Change forums seem boring sometimes! And I feel guilty for feeling that way.
Leo: OK, first, no need to feel guilty â€” your feelings are perfectly fine (even the feelings of guilt, actually). It’s OK to have feelings of boredom. This is a good thing to work with. Try this practice: when you’re bored with something, perhaps you’re assuming you already know what you need to know about it, and your mind wants to move on … but instead, ask yourself to stick with the activity. Look more closely. Be curious. Examine your assumptions, and try to see things as they are. What can you notice that you hadn’t noticed before? What can you learn? What can you appreciate and be grateful for? See this as your mindfulness practice. I’ll tell you this from experience: there is more to any experience than we can possibly know. The closer you look, the more you try to really pay attention and notice things … the more you’ll discover and learn. Talking to any person is the same way: if you’re curious about them, you can learn a lot about that person, and about humans in general, by asking questions.
Q: Currently, it’s an easy habit (eating 1 apple per day). But what about if the habit is not an easy one and consists of a learning curve e.g. Becoming a real good painter? (could take long with unpredictable outcome/high potential for failure/highly complex?) Should I take a tiny step approach and define the outcome precisely? I guess this requires to master step-by-step more difficult habit changes and one should be patient.
Leo: Any skill you want to learn can be practiced simply. Becoming a really good painter requires you to paint often. So start by forming the habit of painting for just one minute a day after a certain trigger. Make this your daily habit. Eventually, if all goes well, increase to two minutes, then three the next week … soon you’ll be painting for 20 minutes a day without a problem, and you’ll start to get good at it. When that happens, you’ll want to do more than 20 minutes a day, because it’s so much fun. But start with the simple habit, and gradually progress.
Q: My habit is to sit up in bed and start meditating for 5 minutes before I get up. It’s not always at the same time and on three days I went back to sleep.
Leo: First, if you’re having trouble, decrease it to one minute. Second, being at the same time doesn’t matter â€” the trigger is waking up, not the time of day. But third … if that trigger isn’t working for you, try another trigger. Starting a new habit when you’re fighting the urge to go back to sleep isn’t ideal. You’re setting yourself up for failure. Wait until you’ve gotten up and have had some water, tea or coffee, moved around a bit. What trigger can you find in your morning after those things?
Q: I am wondering if simply beginning when I wake up is enough of a hard start. It doesn’t seem to have the same impact as a visual trigger beside one’s coffee pot.
Leo: What do you normally do after you wake up? Go pee, drink water, make coffee, look at your phone? Perhaps use one of those as a trigger.
Q: Yes, I have to extend my habit. How can I do it with a glass of water ? I heard about putting lemon in it … but after that? If you have some ideas, that would be great!
Leo: Hmmm … you don’t need to extend the habit of drinking water. You could just stick with it all month. If you want, try eating a fruit after the water, or a carrot. It’s not really extending the habit, but I think you’ll learn a lot about habit skills by putting those simple habits together.
Q: Any suggestions for my next habit of getting up on time and going to bed on time. I realized that is a major issue leading into other problems.
Leo: Sleeping habits are difficult, because of 1) the urge to do things at bedtime, 2) the difficulty in changing sleep patterns, and 3) sometimes there are social reasons we stay up late. I suggest changing your habit slowly â€” just 5 minutes earlier at night and 5 minutes earlier in the morning. Then change by another 5 minutes the week after. This will feel unsatisfactory at first, but it works.
Q: Would a habit substitution count same as the original in this scenario? I’m OK with my decision to not take a chance with getting sicker, especially with next week being Christmas. Still it stings a bit because I had a perfect score the rest of the month.
Leo: Don’t worry too much about perfection. Focus on learning. If the substitution helps you learn better for the rest of the month, that’s better. We’re not trying to have a perfect habit month, but are focused on learning the skills.
Q: It seems like this is a really bad month (with all the holiday busyness) to focus on creating a new habit!
Leo: Sure, that’s true. That’s why you should choose as simple a habit as possible, and do it just for a minute. Feel free to switch your habit today if that helps. Or, don’t worry too much about it and start in January! There’s no pressure to do it right this minute.