We tend to cling to habits. Try something once and if it works you’ll find us going back to it again and again. At times, stretching our routines is, at best, a challenge. We like being (and often consider ourselves) adventurous, spontaneous and up for (most) anything— this, as you can imagine, can run contradictory to these carefully constructed habits.
These sometimes conflicting principles led us to pick up Gretchen Rubin’s latest book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. Rubin tells us, “Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life,” and how we form habits is based on our personality traits—that knowing who we are is the foundation for how to approach habit forming behavior.
Rubin’s research-based testimonial is relevant for anyone stuck, overwhelmed or just plain scared of change. She asks (and answers): Why are habits so tough to create? How quickly can habits be changed? How can we utilize habits to lead more healthy lives?
So here’s what we’ve learned from Better Than Before and what you can too.
Habits are intimidating. There is no better way to approach habits than to know and understand them as such. It will be a challenge—that’s okay. You’ll make it; you’ll master them.
There is no finish line. (For better or for worse). It’s easy to become overwhelmed at the thought of trudging along, doing something forever. But if you can muscle through the big picture and take it day by day, you’ll get to the place where the habit takes over and proves itself by making life better than before.
A one size fits all solution does not exist. Or, understanding your individual nature helps define how habits will work for you. We should shape our habits to who we are (and Rubin offers strategies to help ascertain your individual habit nature).
Start the way you want to continue. And with a clean slate. “Because we are creatures of habit, the first marks on that slate often prove indelible.” Pay close attention to the first few times you do anything because your initial decisions may very well shape your baseline habits. Decide with discipline.
Starting again is much harder than starting the first time. And, “Something that can be done at any time often happens at no time, and waiting vaguely for the right time can be very risky.” Novelty usually propels us to begin, which wears off the second and third time around. Be accountable to stay on track.
Be ready for the Lightening Bolt. Practically impossible to invoke on command, the Lightening Bolt is something that happens to you—you’re smacked with some new idea that jolts you into change. It’s highly effective, so “watch for it and take advantage of its effortless, instantaneous change whenever we feel it at work in our minds.”
It’s hard to make things easier. We’re much more likely to do something if it’s convenient—so pay close attention to the convenience of any activity you want to make into a habit. (This works in the converse too: squash bad habits by making them less convenient.)
Stumbles are part of the habit forming process. Don’t judge yourself too harshly and remember just because you stumble, you don’t have to fall. “Habits are surprisingly tough, and habits are surprising fragile.”
Ultimately, the goal is to “develop habits that allow us to have time for everything we value in a way that’s sustainable, forever.” Among which the best lesson is this: change is possible, and mastering our habits is absolutely doable.
So tell us, how do you feel about routines, habits and change?
p.s. One of our favorite new habits - aromatherapy!