Before you commit to a daily habit…

Over the next few weeks, lots of folks will decide to build new habits into their lives on January 1st. I maintain that “three times a week is a habit” (Tranquility by Tuesday Rule #4!), but in many cases, people hope to adopt new daily habits.

If that sounds like you, I think there’s an important question to ask yourself to see if you’re likely to stick with that daily habit. Would you consider taking your birthday off? If so, maybe this is better done as an often-but-not-always habit. “Daily” may be tough to make work.

I have been thinking of this as I celebrated my birthday earlier this week. There are a great many things that might be worthwhile endeavors that I did not do on my birthday. I did not tidy up my work space (even though it needs it). I did not track spending or eating. I did not clean out my inbox. I did not do a small load of laundry to stay on top of things. I did not sort through the junk mail. I did not put on sunscreen (unless my make-up has it in there but I don’t think it does).

However, I did fill out my time log. I wrote two lines in a sonnet. I did my back stretches/exercises. I also brushed my teeth.

I mention that last one because that’s about how those other habits feel to me. They don’t inspire a whole lot of resistance. I do them, either because I want to and enjoy them, or because I am convinced of the upside and they’re just not that hard to do (the back sequence takes less than ten minutes and some of the stretches feel reasonably pleasant!).

For something to stick as a daily habit (I am on a multi-decade streak of brushing my teeth daily!), it really needs to have those characteristics. If you’re considering a daily habit, you can see if it has those characteristics by picturing yourself on your birthday, and asking if you’d be doing some mental justifications to get out of doing whatever you’re setting out to do. You know what? I deserve a day off. If I’d set a goal to run six miles a day, every day, I probably could do it. But I’d likely be sitting there on special occasions thinking “oh, come on, do I have to? It’s my birthday…”

I don’t think “Do I really need to brush my teeth? Come on, it’s my birthday…I should live a little.” It’s not too much of a bother, feels reasonably pleasant, and doesn’t take much time.

The good news is that habits don’t need to be elaborate to add up. Writing two lines in a sonnet every day this year has taken very little time. That’s just 20 syllables! But at the end of next week, I will have written 50 sonnets. Some people note that it’s fine to start small. I say it’s fine to stay small! That’s what makes daily habits possible.

For something more elaborate, or that’s a little less automatic, maybe a less frequent schedule would be better. Three times a week, with weeks off for vacations, is perfectly fine as a goal. That’s the schedule I’m aiming for with singing and playing the piano (I will not be around a piano for a few weeks of the year!). But daily? That’s just a different matter.

In other news: Have you checked out Vanderhacks yet? I started an “every weekday morning” newsletter featuring a short tip designed to take your day from great to awesome. The content is currently all free but in a week or so I’ll go to a hybrid paid + free model (likely 2 free posts and 3 paid per week). Please give it a look!

7 thoughts on “Before you commit to a daily habit…

  1. I love this perspective! A birthday is a great example for this question. It made me ponder what habits I do every day without fail.

    1. @Anne – thanks! Or asking if you’d do it on vacation. Vacations are real days too, so anything that’s daily would need to work on vacations…

  2. How did you get yourself to incorporate the back exercises so seamlessly? Are they on a print out or app? I’m wanting to add this to my habits list too.

    1. @Michele T – I came up with a sequence of stretches + exercises based on various things my trainer had done with me over the past few months. I was in pain and decided to just try doing it every day for a while. The first two weeks were just sheer discipline – put it on the to-do list each day and do it. But now I’m starting to see a little improvement which is highly motivational. I still write it on my daily to do list though. I may do that for a while until it truly is mindless.

      1. This is really for me I found this really helpful… advice… Do it a bit less time.. and no you don’t always need a tech solution… and pain is a good reminder… good thing to notice and make a priority to eliminate and be honest about … I enjoyed and think this is very helpful to suggest hey do it for less time; memorize it, move away from pain… thank you!!! Takes courage to put yourself and your ideas out there!!

  3. I want to make prayer/meditation a daily habit, but maybe it’s more realistic to work on 3x a week and then trying to turn it into a daily habit or 3x a week for 20 minutes and 4 days a week 10 minutes? I think my block is that I want to get it in before my kids wake up and that usually doesn’t happen. There are other times that I scroll my phone (when laying with my kids to sleep), but that time doesn’t feel super conducive for prayer either. I’ve been successful with making other forms of prayer a 3x a week habit, but it’s the 20 minutes of silent prayer that I struggle with. I probably need to commit to doing it before bed if I can’t wake up early enough. I want it to be as easy as brushing my teeth, but I find it challenging (I remember you talking about meditation) even though I believe it’s necessary.

    1. @Vanessa- sometimes 20 minutes can be hard to commit to in life, especially if it’s something that needs to be done exclusively (I’m not worried about 30 minutes of listening to Bach next year because I can do that in the car or while working). Maybe 10 minutes a few times a week might be good to aim for and you can always go longer on days you are feeling it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *