I’m a long-time reader and fan of Leo over at zenhabits.net. Leo emphasizes, over and over and over, that in order to change your life, you need to do it slowly through one habit change at a time. In sum, he writes:
The point of a habit is that you don’t measure “how much” but “how often.” You can snowball small habits into huge life changing patterns if you stay consistent. They are less intimidating than ambitious “Goals” and much more concrete than the vague sense of “Discipline” or even “Motivation.”
When I try and fail, try and fail, fail and self-hate, I always go back to Leo’s tip on small, single habits.
Right now my biggest challenge is being able to focus on one difficult task and see it through to completion. This is manifesting in a specific, devastating way on my 3rd dissertation chapter…er, more like the chaos of nonsense that might end up as the 3rd dissertation chapter. I have piles (literally, stacks of papers) of half written ideas, book notes, articles on my desk, saved on my desktop, saved in dropbox. All the major issues I’m writing about for this chapter scattered and I get intimidated at the task of sitting down and pushing through the ideas. I end up getting distracted by one thing, deciding I have to follow that trail of thought, getting burned out and then forgetting where it was going. And then I panic about my reading speed in Japanese and spend a few days drumming up random studying plans. What a mess, seriously.
I want to develop this good habit: Single-tasking. Do one thing at a time and finish what I start. Here are some concrete ways for me to break this general habit into workable daily habits, from easiest to hardest:
Habit 1. Meditate daily. It is essentially brain-training to focus, clear out negativity, and alleviate stress. I use the free narrated 10 minute meditation app called Calm but closing my eyes and counting down to 5 is even okay.
Habit 2. End the day by shutting down thoroughly. Close tabs on browser and assess what I accomplished. Check calendar and plan for the next day. Go to bed with a clear mind.
Habit 3. Write daily on one question/answer. Mini! Like devising a topic sentence and elaborating! Even 2 words are okay but I’m using 750words.com which usually encourages, as the name says, 750 words a day.
Leo says you cannot and should not try more than one habit at a time (overwhelmed, will spread yourself too thin, etc). Though, in his book 52 Changes, he also challenges readers to start setting up a new good habit each week. Since I’ve already started meditating, I think I can establish a daily meditation habit within 1 week. Let’s start with that.
Ah, feeling a little better already.