Habits matter because they help you become the person you want to be. James Clear
I am a huge fan of habits and routines. I know it sounds boring, but actually, the opposite is true: By automating a lot of mundane things in life, you give yourself the freedom and space to grow, to feel excited about new things, and to focus on what really matters to you.
One of the best and most effective things the right habits (right as in right for you, of course!) can do is help you become the person you want to be. Just think about it this way: You are what you do, and the more often you do something, the more important it is to who you truly are.
That’s not necessarily a popular construct. Many of us spend a lot of time working on stuff we don’t want to define us. And pretty much all of us have some lofty ideas about ourselves while half of the time, our actions don’t really reflect those. One of my ideas about myself, for instance, is that I am happiest on ice-skates. Which is kind of true. Whenever I go ice-skating, I am indeed very, very happy. But the truth is that I hardly ever go—once or twice a year maybe.
One of the key things I learned during my coaching training was:
If you don’t make room for it in your week, you won’t make room for it in your life.
So really, that happy little princess on skates is a remnant of my past that evidently has no room in my present. If I want to make it part of my future, I will have to make it part of my regular life and not only go once a year and then indulge in the fantasy—or memory—for another eleven months. Because as happy as ice-skating makes me, the illusion does not have the power to do the trick. And I bet it’s the same for you, right?
So if my example resonated with you because you have something like my ice-skating happiness too, be honest with yourself and answer the tough question first:
Do I really want to make room for this in my life or is it just a past self-image I am keeping alive?
If your answer is that you just like to think of yourself as a person who is into whatever-your-thing-is, just as I like to think of myself as this graceful person on skates, it’s time to cut the excuses. Own it that your busy life is not the reason why you’re not going swimming or dancing or whatnot anymore. It may have caused you to stop, but the reason why you’re not going anymore is that it’s not important enough to you these days. It’s your decision to make time for something in your life or not. If you decide not to do it, let it go. Continue to enjoy it as an occasional pastime, but that’s it.
However, if you really feel that this thing that makes you happy is so much part of you that you want it back in your life, you’ll have to act. And that’s where the habit comes in. It means to make it regular, easy, and attractive.
Let’s go back to my ice-skating example: To make it a habit, I would have to start by setting a specific date and/or time to go to an ice-skating rink—let’s say a certain morning every week that’s a regular occurrence on my calendar. To make it easy, I would choose Friday because that’s the day when I don’t take meetings or consults, so doing something that brings me joy first thing in the morning would be doable without stressing me out or ending my week on this positive note in the afternoon would be a nice little ritual. You see where I’m getting.
Most importantly, though, how could I make it so attractive that I would actually go? I would have to get my own skates for sure. There’s a bit of a stereotype that Germans are pretty gear-obsessed, and I feel the draw to have the perfect gear too whenever I get into a new activity. As I am a minimalist, I fight that urge most of the time, but in this particular case, I would have to give in because I am not a big fan of wearing shoes dozens of people have worn before me. Having my own pair of old-school white figure-skating shoes would be a game-changer. Plus, I could make a deal with myself that if I went every Friday for a certain period of time, I would hire myself a trainer to re-learn all the pirouettes and jumps I used to be able to do. Again, private training is something I consider an amazing luxury, so this outlook would make the whole endeavor even more attractive.
That’s an approach you can apply to pretty much any habit you want to build and it will help a lot—provided that you are honest with your own motivations and don’t try to make them match your idea of the perfect you.
But speaking of your idea of the perfect you, one last thing is crucial to establishing successful habits. You may want to ask yourself the following questions as well:
Does this habit help me become the person I want to be? What would I be doing if I already were this person? What do people do who are that “type of person”?
If the habit you want to build does not align with your general goals and values, your idea of who you want to be, chances are you’ll have a hard time sticking to it. If the habit matches these, on the other hand, you have a much higher chance of succeeding. And you can improve your odds even further by surrounding yourself with the “type of person” you want to be.
An easy example here: Let’s say you want to be a non-smoker or non-drinker. Well, obviously that’s much easier by hanging out with people who already do not smoke or drink. Of course, I am not saying that you should dump friends who smoke or drink! But you’ll also want to spend plenty of time around people who can make it easier for you to build your new habit because it has always or long been natural for them.