On three separate occasions, I’ve tried writing on Medium every day. It wasn’t until the third time that I accomplished it. Now, I post every other day, without fail.
So what made the third time go differently?
Besides the obvious good luck that comes with the third time being “the charm,” I changed my approach. Here are my changes.
1. Make it clear
You can only stick to a habit by making it clear. That way, you don’t give your brain any loopholes to not complete it.
On my first two attempts, I wasn’t clear about the setting of my habit. In order for you to stick with the habits, make it impossible to put off. Have a time and setting to do it.
I would tell myself that I had other work, that I could do my writing later. When I forgot, I would chalk it up to a lack of space. I cut myself slack for even remembering I should write.
On the third attempt, I changed. I decided that I would write at 10 AM in the living room. When 10 AM came, I couldn’t postpone it to later. I couldn’t make an excuse for my lack of space because there would be nobody in the living room to prevent me from writing.
I had to write. There was no way to cheating myself out of it.
So I sat myself down, even when I really didn’t want to. Some days, I could immediately write the article. Other days, I’d have to sit there staring at a black screen for 15 minutes. Either way, I wrote in some capacity.
2. Make it achievable
In the book Atomic Habits, author James Clear wrote that every decision is a deposit towards your life; you can either choose to stick to a habit or not.
He was trying to highlight that every decision matters. You can decide to write for 10 minutes or 10 hours. What matters is that you chose to write.
Habits get built by repetition. So technically, it’s better if you write 100 times for one minute than 10 times for 10 minutes. If you want to build up a habit, you start with the foundation.
My mistake was biting off more than I could chew. My goals were too big, which made me discouraged. I wanted to write for an hour every day, but I hadn’t even wrote for an hour every week.
You have to start somewhere.
Start as I did. In the first week, I promised myself 10 minutes of writing every day. Then the following week, I did 20. I eventually leveled off at an hour every day, just like I wanted.
Part of habit building is self-confidence. When you’re discouraged or unmotivated, you don’t try. Trying is the most important ingredient.
3. Make it noticeable
Sometimes people can’t build a habit because they are too lazy or unmotivated. Other times, they’re just forgetful.
In order to start a habit, you have to remember it.
Don’t have a habit that you forget. In a technique known as habit stacking, piggyback your new habit on a preexisting one.
For example, always do pushups during commercial breaks. You know you’re bound to watch TV, so you’re bound to do your pushups. Over time, your brain will associate pushups with TV and you’ll be reminded of doing pushups every time you watch a game of Monday Night Football.
Another way to increase visibility is physically making it noticeable.
Want to floss more often? Don’t keep your floss in the cabinet. Either keep it by your toothbrush or by your cup. You’ll see it every time you brush your teeth.
I started keeping my notepad of ideas on my desk. Every morning when I’d reach for my laptop, I’d see my reminder.
If you can’t seem to stick to a habit, it’s not because you’re lazy. Laziness might have a component, but it’s because all of these other techniques aren’t in place.
By implementing all of these steps, you make it extremely difficult to justify missing habits.
However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be slip-ups. My rule is this: one day is okay, but not two. Missing a day is inevitable, but missing two is something wrong. It means that something isn’t working, that something needs to change.
Even if you can’t complete the entire habit every day, take a step every day. If you can’t write for 10 minutes, write for five. If you can’t floss every meal, only floss during dinner. Make sure that the habit hasn’t been pushed out of your mind.