Recently while on one of my daily walks, I was reflecting on how much my day to day life had changed – for the better – with the adoption of various habits over the past several years. I started thinking about how many major habits I had built into my life, and determined that there have been 7 major habits that I have successfully adopted over the past six or seven years.
This has not been a planned annual activity of adding a new habit per year, although some people do in fact suggest that kind of approach. With me, it has been an ongoing process over the years of identifying new areas where I decided I could benefit from some specific improvement in my regular routine. I would then “design” an appropriate habit and would go about working to “program” that improvement into my daily life. Also, these are not the only habits I have tried to develop over the years — merely the ones that have “stuck” because they obviously had some continuing, positive impact on me. For some internal reason, I had decided to stick with them and keep working at them, and eventually they became strong habits. Here are those 7 habits that I have developed, and the approximate length of time I have “internalized” the habit for:
1. Swapping caffeine-laced drinks for hot water (7 years). This one still gets chuckles from my friends, associates, and clients. I certainly haven’t sworn off coffee or tea, and in fact my daily ritual always starts with a home brewed double cappuccino. Then I switch to hot water which gives me the comfort of a hot drink, but none of the shakes;
2. Regular 5BX exercising (6 years). The first 5BX entry (a well established military exercise regime) in my journal is March 2008, however I have been doing them – on and off — somewhat longer than that. Since 2008 I have taken to doing them regularly at least 3 times per week. It is a great set of exercises — 20 minutes at most — that requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. And it keeps me out of the gym, with no gym membership to pay for;
3. Regular journaling (6 years). I started my regular journaling habit early in 2008, after at least a couple of false starts. I know this because the first few entries in my journal have 6 or 8 months gaps between them! From 2008, I started with fairly regular daily entries, and then over time reduced that to about weekly. However I have regularly written with at least that weekly frequency, and over the ensuing six years I have written something like 750 pages of journal entries. This is certainly not prize winning writing, however it has led me to more active public writing (articles, blogs, newsletters) and has proven to be a very valuable process for reflecting;
4. Structured daily business/personal metrics (4 years). Going back in my journal (proving how useful it can be to have a journal…!) it was around February 2010 that I started to plan out “regular weekly schedules” and then February 2011 when I started recording numbers against my weekly business and personal activities. I am somewhat surprised that it goes back only 4 years, as it seems like so much longer! The metrics help keep me focused in my day to day activities by making me aware of where I want (ideally) to be focusing my energies and also what major activities (categories) I am trying to move forward. While the specific metrics I actually track have evolved considerably over the 4 years, I have found the process to be extremely valuable in terms of helping me to stay focused on “the important” over “the urgent”, which I believe is key to success, especially in the self-employment world;
5. Daily Walking (3 years). My commitment to walk at least 10,000 steps per day (which is about 5 miles, or 8 kilometres) dates back to December 2010, when I bought mmy first pedometer as an early Christmas gift to myself. Again, this is one of those things that feels like I have been at it much longer than a “mere” 3 years. Over the last 28 months or so, I have averaged about 87% of my target (I know this because I keep metrics — you see how this is going, don’t you..?) so while I’m still “not there” in terms of complete success at meeting my target, I’m really very good about getting out and walking nearly every day. I have come to very much enjoy my walks, no matter what season or weather conditions and lately, I’ve even been thinking that I should work to “step it up” and move to a 15,000 step daily target. Haven’t yet pulled the trigger on that, though;
6. Standing desk (1 year). I started this in December 2012 when I went through a major “de-cluttering” of my office and configured my home office with a standing desk. I had been thinking about doing this after reading some articles about how bad sitting all day is for people, which served to get me a bit concerned about my own level of inactivity while working. I had already adopted my daily walking habit a couple of years earlier, and I thought that a standing desk might be a good addition that helped my posture and my work. This habit is now about 14 months in duration, and I believe it has led to a marked improvement in my work productivity. Bottom line is that if I have to stand to work, I’m not that interested in standing around and watching pointless YouTube videos or wasting away on Facebook. Not surprisingly, that little “attitude adjustment” is great for getting one focused on doing the “real work”…
7. Less TV, more reading (1 year). This habit started in January 2013, when my wife Colleen and I moved our main floor TV upstairs and set up our reclining chairs in front of the fireplace. So now our “natural place” on the main floor to sit down at has a fire place and a stack of books to read, rather than a TV to turn on and zone out in front of. We haven’t done away with TV by any means, we’ve just made it a little less “front and center” in our lives. The end result is that we sit down together and get in a lot more reading time and a lot more conversation time, and we watch a lot less TV. Hooray for that!
If I had tried to start all of these habits at the same time — like some personal “make-over” initiative — I would have failed spectacularly, I’m sure of that. Instead, by only focusing on one small thing at a time, sticking with it, and working on “doing it” until it because truly habitual, the cumulative effect of stacking positive habit upon positive habit has been nothing short of transformational. My health is much better, the quality of my work is much better, my productivity is higher, and I feel I’m a lot more reflective and balanced in my overall life.
Adopting some of these habits has been easier than others: the standing desk, for example, doesn’t leave much choice for sitting, and moving the TV upstairs nicely leverages the “out of sight, out of mind” principle. Daily walking and regular journaling were a little harder to stick to, and in each case I slipped up more than once. Persevering, however, pays dividends and eventually the new ruts in the brain become deep enough that the “new habit” becomes the old routine. Now, if I don’t go for a walk for a day or two, my body loudly protests and I get increasingly agitated until I get outside and walking.
Which is how I’m feeling right now… I’ve now been writing for a couple of hours, my client calls are all completed, my projects and metrics are in pretty good shape, I’ve been standing at my desk for 7 hours, I did my exercises this morning, and I’m halfway through my 4th mug of hot water. And to top it all off, the sun is shining on a warm spring day. It is definitely time for an energizing walk!