How to Start (and Maintain) a Healthy Habit

1 year ago
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The idea is to encourage yourself to do something, but something that you don’t put emotional effort into. This builds willpower, which you can then apply to the things you are emotionally invested in.

Out with the old

This is the time of year when we focus on new beginnings (naturally), but it’s also worth spending some time re-evaluating old commitments to see if you’re truly still committed to them. This is one of the most useful lessons I have learned from David Allen’s classic work on organization. Putting things in order ($18, Amazon). Allen calls everything you need or want to do “open loop”. Open loops, no matter how small, take up some space in our brains. It’s a space that you can’t use for other things. So every time you can close one of those loops, you get some energy back. Anyone who has done the exercises in Allen’s book can tell you that there is indeed something very energetic about clearing your mind of all these loops (not only by doing them, but, more importantly, by deciding whether to what to do with them).

This applies not only to what you should do, but also to what you think you want to do. Maybe you think you should learn Spanish, but you haven’t done anything to learn it. Recognizing that you are not really committed enough to study Spanish can help close this loop. And getting rid of the feeling that you have to learn Spanish might be what frees your mind enough to decide to take up paddleboarding on a whim. The point is that the new year is not just a time to start something new, it is a time to let go of things from the past that no longer serve you.

In many ways, this is an antidote to the so-popular “just do it” slogan. Just do it means not thinking about it, not deciding whether what you are going to do is what you really want to do or should do. Maybe just don’t do it. Maybe take some time to remember why you wanted to do it in the first place, and if those reasons no longer resonate with you, just don’t do it.

If you like this idea, I highly recommend purchasing Allen’s book. It goes into much more detail about this idea and there are some practical ways to let go while keeping track of these things in case you decide, years from now when you’re kayaking on the Sea of ​​Cortez, that now you really really want to learn Spanish and ready to do the job.

Do the job

As one of my writing teachers used to say, to become a writer you have to sit in a chair and start writing. To be a yogi, you must practice yoga. To run, you have to run. There is no easy way around this. You have to put on your adult pants and get the job done.

On the other hand, however, as Clear points out at the beginning Atomic Habitsto change yourself, you need to change what you do. “Every time you write a page, you become a writer. Every time you play the violin you become a musician. Every time you start training, you become an athlete.” Every time you do a job, you become the future you you want to be.

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