Tranquility by Tuesday Challenge, Rule #4: Three times a week is a habit

Happy Friday! This upcoming week, the Tranquility by Tuesday Challenge will be focusing on Rule #4: Three times a week is a habit.

We all have things we want to do more of in our lives that we know we’d enjoy or find meaningful. These tend to be important-but-not-urgent activities such as having family meals, strength training, practicing a musical instrument, spiritual disciplines, creative writing, networking activities, learning a foreign language, etc. These activities often get crowded out in the daily bustle of life, and so people lament that they “never” get to these things.

But is that true? It turns out that there is a very important distinction between “never” and “not as much as I want.” The former seems hopeless. The latter? It invites some good questions right there, such as how to scale up what’s already going on.

The truth is, if something “never” happened, you wouldn’t even be thinking about it. Whatever it is you want to do more of, most likely you do this thing sometimes, but just not as frequently as you think you should be doing it. When I had participants in the Tranquility by Tuesday project think back to when they’d last done whatever activity they wished they had more time for, a good chunk had done the thing at least once in the last week. The vast majority had done it at least once in the last month. It wasn’t never; it was “not as much as I want.”

This brings me to Rule #4: Three times a week is a habit. I maintain that anything that happens three times a week happens pretty regularly. Aiming to do a chosen high-quality activity three times a week will mean doing it more — but it’s an attainable goal in a way that “daily” might not be. And it turns out that many people who claim to do things “daily” don’t actually mean that. Weekends, holidays, etc. might all be exceptions. We may be settling for a few times a week after all!

So, for the TBT Challenge this week, think about what activity you’d like to scale up in your life. Right now I’m focusing on singing, running, playing the piano, and having family meals. Maybe you want to blog, or go to the gym, go to worship services (e.g. early AM or lunchtime mass), or write in your novel, or paint in your studio, or cook ambitious meals, or ride your bike, or have one-on-one time with kids or your significant other, or read with your kids, etc. As you do your Friday planning, think about when you could do your chosen activity. Can you identify three slots? 

Keep track of this during the week. If you get to the end of the week and you’ve done something twice, this can be a nudge to spend a few minutes doing it once more. Now it’s a habit! It’s a part of your identity. You are a person who…(runs/has family meals/plays the piano/etc.)

While this rule sounds simple, it can be life-changing. Instead of lamenting that we’re not doing whatever thing we feel would be amazing, we just go about doing it a few times a week. As we do, the amazingness kicks in and we feel happier in general.

But beyond that obvious benefit, there’s this one: thinking three times a week gets us out of the 24-hour trap that limits so many people’s perception of what is possible. Things don’t have to happen daily, nor do they have to happen at the same time every day, in order to count in our lives. A week is a more accurate representation of our lives, and thinking 168 hours, not 24, makes everything seem more abundant.

What do you plan to do three times a week?

20 thoughts on “Tranquility by Tuesday Challenge, Rule #4: Three times a week is a habit

  1. Laura, you know this was my FAVOURITE rule from TBT. It literally changed my life, inspiring me to accept a new job and launch a blog. More generally, it changed my perspective (I suspect forever) on how to view habits. It’s liberating to understand I don’t have to do something daily to consider it a habit. Three times a week feels both doable and deeply satisfying.

  2. This is my favorite rule and was life-changing for me! I still vividly remember the post you wrote about your work w/ the women you talk about in the book who wanted to add exercise back into her schedule. After having kids, I struggled to workout as often as I used to and I let myself think I just couldn’t do it since I couldn’t exercise 5 times/week like I used to – I had a total mental block about this. But 3 times/week is totally doable and I’ve been doing that consistently for the last year+!

    1. @Lisa- so glad it was helpful to you. Yep, 3x week is totally doable. There is nothing magical about 5, but we all have our own mental blocks…

  3. For me, I’m going to add in 3 sessions a week of swimming. I already manage about two so one more is definitely doable.

    I absolutely adore swimming and I always have my best ideas when I’m in the water. I’ll spend as much time as the kids will tolerate swimming when we’re on holiday, I just need to bring this into non-holiday time too.

    1. @Ellie- those make for the best 3x-a-week activities – what you’re already doing fairly regularly. Scaling it up requires tweaks, not a lifestyle overhaul. I am sure you will make it work.

  4. I’m excited to try this rule! This is embarrassing, but I’m going to try to eat a “substantial” amount of vegetables for 3 meals this week. As someone who has used her extra calories from breastfeeding and lack of sleep to fuel some delicious late night icecream, I want to get back on track, I’m also ok with this justifying the $17 salad once a week or so.

    Had said $17 salad yesterday (I thought we were tracking Thursday to Thursday but maybe that’s now a bonus salad !)

    1. @A – a substantial amount of veggies sounds like a good goal. I need to put this goal into my life more often…

      1. I love this goal. I think I am pretty good at getting a substantial amount of veggies in so it is not a focus for me this week. I may add this back in as a goal, later on, to keep my veggies in check.

        My goals for this week are:
        1) Sort and declutter.
        2) Physical Therapy exercises
        3) Singing (Not necessarily for this week but for upcoming weeks.)
        4) Walking – A habit that I regularly do regularly. However, the last few weeks have been spotty.

  5. This is my third favorite TBT rule. My goal is three times a week for yoga. I sometimes do more classes, I was told in order for one to get results you have to do it three times a week.

  6. As I’m thinking about embracing this challenge it seems harder than making plans to do something daily. It asks potentially for one or more new habits that aren’t really anchored….which goes against everything I know about habit formation. I don’t have an obvious thing I do once/twice per week and could do more reliably. This isn’t a critique….I’m glad it works for many. Just not intuitive to me. There are certainly things I’d like to do more than never….incorporating them ONCE in a week would be a good start! I’ll keep thinking. What I realized in reading the book is that I naturally abide by most of your rules in some way. This is an exception.

    1. @Gwinne – I think that while theoretically “daily” might be easier for habit formation, that just doesn’t work for many people’s lives. Also, we have many habits that aren’t truly daily. Going to work or school and the things associated with that tend to be really strong habits, but that usually happens five times a week, not seven.

      1. I get that and understand I may well be an outlier in this regard. I’ve read enough about the science of habits and know myself well enough to know that if I tried an activity at three different times of day/week it just wouldn’t happen on a long term basis. It might work for you and others but prob not for me.

        To overcome this challenge but still embrace the general idea, I’ve decided to limit my own “three times is a habit” experiment to my bedtime routine (trying out a couple different activities I can do some nights but not necessarily all nights) as a kind of mix-and-match.

  7. I’m trying this with two “activities;” having a glass of wine with dinner (I’d rather have one more often!); and listening to the news from NPR during my daily commute (I’d rather listen to a good audio book- yes, including all of yours). I also want to note that things that happen in 3’s are considered an essential element in fairytales 😉

  8. I’m late to this but am writing a blog post about my experiences with the book and am currently up to this chapter. I want to fit more writing in (which may also include listening to writing courses) and also start work on a photo art program. I’m not sure if that is expecting too much of myself all at once so may start with writing . . .

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