The art of creating a new habit
There are three core elements when it comes to creating a new habit — one that sticks.
The quarantine became the perfect time to try new things. External forces that dictated how our day was structured were -for the most part- gone(commute, social activities, work events) and we had recovered control over our time and how we wanted to spend it. I personally saw a lot of friends and co-workers struggling to adapt to having so much free time and no distractions that kept us from doing that one thing we always said we would like to try “if only we had more free time”.
I tried to take a different approach, and decided to do my best and re-purpose lock down into an opportunity. An opportunity to try new things. An opportunity to invest in myself and personal growth. An opportunity to create new habits, evolve existing habits, and break bad habits.
In this article I will be focusing on creating new habits. But I will soon be sharing more on evolving and breaking existing habits.
In my opinion, and based on my journey towards creating new habits in this new normal we live in, there are three core elements when it comes to creating a new habit — one that sticks.
- Create motivation.
- Acknowledge how you feel after exercising your new habit, and how you feel those days in which you don’t.
- Give it purpose and set an intention.
It’s normal for a new activity to feel like a task and for our mind to come up with 100 reasons as to why we could or should skip it.
Thus, it’s important that you define and create your motivation when attempting to create a new habit.
The first new habit I wanted to incorporate into my life at the beginning of the quarantine, and more specifically into my morning routing, was a 20 minute stretch session. I wanted to do this mainly to fill in some of the time gaps (free time) in my morning now that I didn’t have to get ready to go to the office. I wanted to prevent myself from starting work too early. I also wanted to promote reflection, and start my day moving my body.
To create motivation I decided to take progress pictures. I picked four postures that were challenging for me, and took a picture of each one every Sunday for about month. This worked pretty well for myself. Every time I thought of skipping my morning stretch I reminded myself that my Sunday pictures were coming which in return helped me to push myself into the yoga mat.
By the second week, when I had already side by side pictures to compare and appreciate the progress I was hooked. I wanted to continue to get better at it and was appreciative of the effort that I was putting in and how it was paying off. There was physical progress.
Acknowledge how you feel after exercising your new habit, and how you feel those days in which you don’t
I would be lying if I say that every day was perfect. There were some days in which I skipped my morning stretch. This happened if for example I lost track of time in the morning so I was “late for work”.
I started noticing how different my energy level and focus were when I skipped stretching. My mind was scattered and I felt all over the place. My anxiety was also more easily triggered by little things such an email or a message from my team asking me for yet another task to be completed unexpectedly that day.
It’s easy to ignore or attribute different energy levels we experience in our day to the trigger events themselves. But the more I practiced stretching in the morning the more that starting my day with a settled mind and clarity on my priorities became a constant. Thus, the more I acknowledged how skipping my morning practice impacted my energy levels and the more I wanted to prioritize it. There was conscious progress.
When building a new habit I encourage you to acknowledge how you feel afterwards and also how do you feel those days when you do not practice it. This on it’s own can help you to find or create new motivation.
Give it purpose and set an intention
After a couple months stretching started to feel “easy”. I stopped spending energy thinking about why I should do it or debating wether I should do it or not. This allowed my mind to create space for energy to give my habit purpose and intention.
I mentioned at the beginning how I wanted to promote reflection and start my day with body movement.
There are different angles to “reflection”. We all have heard how stretching, yoga, or mindfulness exercises are to promote “quiet”. I have learned that they are also really good to let your mind go wherever it needs to go, even if it’s loud. The important thing is to be aware of what is it that you are thinking about and turn “scattered” into “structured”, “loud” into “quiet” and “ideas” into “concepts”.
Stretching was now the time in which I conversed with myself. I’d find myself thinking about my to-dos at work and setting an order of operations or prioritizing. I also found myself thinking about what I wanted to eat that day, things I needed to buy, etc. And sometimes even experiencing “aha!” moments. All this during the first 15 minutes in which I would let my mind go. In exchange, I noticed that towards the end of my session and once I had organized my thoughts, “quiet” made its way for a couple of last minutes of nothingness and tranquility. There was spiritual progress
Soon after my session I spend 5 minutes writing down anything that came out from it. Could be anything from order of operations for that work day, something I want to research, or even ideas on what I want to start writing about.
To wrap up…
All goes “full circle”. Purpose and intention at this point have become my new motivation. I no longer need my progress pictures — in fact i haven’t taken any in the past 3 months. I cherish my morning stretch because it’s healthy for my body, and promotes mind clarity. It’s a habit that has stuck with me for 6 months and it feels purposeful and filled with intention.
Next time you’re thinking about building a new habit but wondering how to do so, I recommend you to try these three things and see how it goes. At the end there’s nothing to loose but free time turned into an opportunity.