We all know that we need to develop good habits. The successful authors swear by butt-in-chair writing techniques and the entrepreneurs who are making it talk endlessly about how they get up each morning and just get stuff done.
But what happens when you have life derailing you all the time? That’s what it’s like for the majority of us. Our life, our people, our to-do list all derail our every move. There are more verifiable reasons to fail than there are excuses to succeed.
The first step to creating actual habits is to define what you actually want in life.
I’m great at coming up with reasons to fail and life is really good at handing them to me. And now that we’re in Alaska where everything is that much harder because “hard life builds tougher people”—epic eye-roll—I now have even more.
For a time, the weight of all the things I carry—the people, the responsibilities, taking care of the finances and cleaning and maintaining, trying to keep RIA going, trying and failing to write so I could get my author career running again, and then dealing with a house that needs to be torn down and rebuilt—was winning. I spent most of my days “working” by staring at the computer screen feeling exhausted, or by trying to figure out how to do what used to come as natural as breathing. Okay. No. Outlining has never been that easy, but you get my drift.
Once we were settled, I came to a stark realization. I was out of excuses.
You see, it shouldn’t be “reasons to fail and excuses to succeed,” but when we’re in the battle we call life, that’s exactly how it feels.
The reality is that they are excuses to fail and reasons to succeed. So, I had to realign that emphasis.
Then I asked myself what I really wanted.
Make your dream visually available.
One of the very first things I did when I moved into our forever home was to paint a wall my favorite color, orange.
On that wall, I put my dream. I printed things out. I drew signs to myself. My dream is in my face.
Why is that important?
The reason is simple. When you’re failing, when you’re allowing yourself to stare at the blank screen or to turn on Netflix, you can look at your dream if it’s staring you in the face. As you’re staring at it, ask yourself if what you’re doing right now is going to get you to your dream. Yes or no.
If the answer is no, then why are you doing what you’re doing?
Okay. What’s making you tired?
“I’m working too many hours.”
How can you work fewer hours?
You keep walking yourself through this question and answer period until you find a solution you can deliver yourself. The problem is that if you find a solution that relies on someone else, you won’t attain your dreams. Plain and simple. The other person might want to help, but the fact of the matter is that they have their own problems that they’re working through. Even if that person is your life partner, they still have their own life.
Use the visual representation of your dreams to remind you to work forward, and if you can’t, ask yourself why not until you find a solution you can make happen on your own or with very little help.
There are a lot of “I can’t”s. So be prepared for them. There are more “I can’t”s than there are “I can”s. So, prepare for some pretty tough talks. How badly do you want this dream? How hard are you willing to fight for it?
Use your list of obstacles as a place to start.
Chances are that when you’re having this conversation with yourself, you’re going to find a whole slew of things you could do better.
- Time management
- Writing every day
- Budget management
- Project management
- Distraction management
There’s a lot of management as you can see and, frankly, that’s where a lot of us fail. Sit down with yourself and prioritize what you need to work on first. What will be the most important thing to fix first so that you can then build on the others?
Remember that you’re not scaling a mountain in one large leap. Nor do you want to climb Mt. Everest without any prior training.
When you set goals that are too far out there for your endurance, you fail. A lot. And not the good kind of failing, the kind you learn from and grow with. You fail in the ways that reinforce your “I can’t”s, and that’s not something we want.
So, keep that in mind as we progress through the next steps. We want to start small.
Learn who you are and how you work.
This seems like a no-brainer to me. No one knows how I work and who I am better than me.
But I’m wrong. My husband can tell me when I’ve set a goal too big to achieve, but the numb-nut won’t ever tell me. Why not? Because I laugh at him when he does and I tell him, “I can do this.” When I fail, he just offers me a hand so I can pull myself up and he helps brush me off. Then he gives me this eyebrow raise instead of an “I told you so.”
We have this perception of who we are based on who we want to be, which is sometimes skewed from our actual point of being.
So, you need to ask yourself a few questions:
- When a situation comes up that requires me to invest more time into it, how do I react?
- When a project requires I investigate how to fix a problem that just popped up—like a software malfunction—how do I react?
- How do I react to these when I’m on a deadline?
- How do I face deadlines?
- Do I meet deadlines?
- Do I operate well under the pressure of a deadline?
You know your life the best, so ask yourself questions that point to you living under pressure and responding to that duress.
That’s who you are. Those are your limits.
That’s your frustration endurance.
Let me tell you something. If you want to build good and lasting habits, you’re going to have to build that frustration endurance higher. You’re going to have to figure out how to push through that weight of feeling overwhelmed. Habits are hard to make, so stare at that wall you just created with your answers.
The wall you have to tear down is you. Not life. Not your partner. Not your kids. Not your car, or your house, or your pets, or your parents, or your finances. Your wall is you.
Begin with one big goal.
The next step is to find a “big goal” to aim for. I like to pick something I can aim for and hit within a month, especially in the beginning. If I go too far, I will procrastinate the crap out of it, fail, and inform myself quite proudly that I was right in my “I can’t.” So, a month? I can usually keep that deadline in sight.
Start small and start with a habit that’s going to help you fix the first thing on your list.
Example: Let’s say that time management is the first thing on your list. You have a very low frustration tolerance—you get frustrated easily—and you are at your wit’s end. You’re snapping at everyone all the time. People think you’re angry all the time. But you’re just so tired and frustrated and you want out of this rut you’ve found you dug yourself into.
So, the very first goal I would do? Write down and document all the things I do by the hour every day for an entire month. It’s fairly easy. It doesn’t take a lot of time. It’s not going to burden my frustration tolerance. It’s an easily achievable goal.
Break it into smaller goals
Then, break it into smaller, weekly goals.
Example: I’m going to document what I do every hour for a week.
Break it into even small goals
Then, create daily goals.
Example: I’m going to document what I do every hour for a day.
Give yourself a reward for meeting your goals
The reason we do this is so that you can review yourself at the end of the day, week, and month.
- Did you meet the goal? Yes or no.
- If no, why not and how do you fix it?
- If yes, what did you learn about yourself this week?
- What is another goal we can stack on top of this one once we’ve mastered this?
Reward yourself for hitting your goals. Stickers are great. Some people do sugary treats. I used to do those and then I gained a ton of weight, so I don’t recommend that. You’re building habits, and that is definitely a habit.
Forgive yourself when you fail
You are going to fail. The one thing we’re good at is beating ourselves up when we don’t meet our expectations.
We yell at ourselves. We “drill sergeant” ourselves to do better.
What we’re really doing, though, is feeding our “I can’t”’s. And that’s bad. We’re trying to eradicate those.
So, when you fail, just ask yourself. “Why?” Repeat that question again and again until you come up with the root of your issue.
And then challenge yourself to find a solution you can provide.
And stare at that dream you have hanging up on your wall. Remind yourself that you can achieve it and you’re going to. With perseverance and determination.
Because, m’dear, you can.
- What’s your big dream?
- What is your main obstacle?
- How are you going to attack it? What habit are you going to try to gain first?
- What will be your rewards? Daily, weekly, monthly.
- What are you doing to do for yourself when fail?
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
Time Management for Writers by Sandra Gerth