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I have reached a turning point in my life where I need to make some actual changes to the things that I’m not happy about. I am a few years away from 40 and settled down with my little family of 3 humans and 2 dogs. I am running out of excuses.
Although, I wouldn’t say my life is bad, far from it, there still seems to be something missing. I want to feel more fulfilled, procrastinate less and create more. I have a lot of ideas that I want to finally see come to and into my life.
In the past, I wouldn’t stick with a change. Usually, I would set up grand goals, work towards them with much enthusiasm, only to let them slide at the first sign of struggle. Or I get bored and move on to the next big thing.
I now know, that’s not actually helpful. I’ve done a lot more research, listen to different podcasts and read many articles around this topic. The most important step is getting back to the habit forming.
I have started this in the past with de-cluttering, but failed again. Why? Because I didn’t do what I should have again and did not follow the instructions.
I used Leo Babauta’s book: Zen Habits, which is the prior version of Essential Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change. It is a wonderful book which I intend to use in the future. In addition there is a amount of online resources on Leo’s blog: zenhabits.net
Here are some key take aways from the book, and my tries at habit forming in the past as well as the recents weeks:
It is so important to start small, which I was set out to do. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to start with too many things at once and /or start with too big of changes.
I committed not to make these mistakes again. But then I made the very similar mistake of adding more changes too early. I hadn’t firmly established the de-cluttering habit yet.
With this I was back at square one: overwelmed and failing.
And there is another stumbling stone, I always seem to hit: reality vs. expectation. I have a certain outcome in my mind in a specific time frame, but it never comes true, because it cannot.
Like I want to lose 30 pounds in 6 months or I want to work out 5 times a week for half an hour.
But then reality sets in. I don’t go to the gym a few days in a row because of a cold, or despite best effords only hit less than expected for a month. This leads to the feeling of failure. Eventhough I may have done way more into the right direction than without the goal.
My conclusion was, that the goal cannot be too concrete or it will discourage.
Most of the time the intentions are good, like New Year’s Eve resolutions. I set up goals and publish them, but I fail because it gets hard, and I cannot immediately see the progress.
The problem is I don’t get the instant gratification. The outcome is the gratification, not the process. With the help of this habit change, I am moving toward accepting discomfort and making any situation gratifying.
That’s actually a big topic of the author mentioned earlier speaks and writes about. Please see links to some articles / podcasts of Leo at the end of this post.
Try, Try Again
I used this failed habit forming experience to find a new habit to select. I came to the conclusion: while I have to pick something I want to do, I also should pick something to help future habits. Additionally it should be something not too big or hard to do. Thus it will strengthen my habit forming pocess. This is a way I can test the waters of installing new habits. Achieving one’s goals is wonderful positive reinforcement.
So I picked meditation, as I’ve heard it to be one of the keystones for everything else. A lot of bloggers and podcasts in the areas of self improvement, simplifying your life, or living a better life usually mention meditation as a starting point and corner stone.
The most important habit I’ve formed in the last 10 years of forming habits is meditation. Hands down, bar none.Leo Babauta
I was not planning on anything crazy like meditating for like 20 minutes every morning. That’s just not achievable. It needed to be a small start. I was aiming at two to five minutes to start into the day.
Naturally, I found something fitting on Leo’s site: his 44 Challenge. It has a nice structure to the meditation sessions and gives you a gradual progression. I am combining this with the steps in his book mentioned above.
Frequent Habit Plan Review
I have been doing meditation for 3 Weeks now. Review and continuous improvement of the habit plan seem to be most important. It helps to notice obstacles, frequent excuses, and distractions I give into. Once noticed, the habit plan can be modified to get back on track and avoid these obstacles in the future.
Last but not least, we must be kind to ourselves. This was one of the reasons for me to quit many of my habit changes. As soon as I missed a day I felt I had failed. I thought it was over right then. And it would be especially bad, if I had posted my goals publicly. Now I had let down my readers as well. I would go into hiding, and not write for a while. Then I either pretend I never had these plans or apologize and make excuses. But I would never cut myself some slack.
This time, I will document my failures instead and move on. I can use them to improve the process and potentially help one of you as in your journey. Hopefully, you will recognize the same obstacles, and use my notes for yourself. Please share what has or hasn’t worked for you.
- More about Leo Babauta the author
- Essential Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change, Briefly
- The 44 Training Program by Leo Babauta
- Meditation for Beginners: 20 Practical Tips for Understanding the Mind by Leo Babauta
- What to Notice as You Start Meditating by Leo Babauta
- More Meditation. More Gratitude. Better Living by Joshua Becker
- Fighting the Voice in Your Head by Joshua Fields Millburn