Forming new habits: approach the goal gradually
How did you do on your habit change for July?
Photo by Michael Wriston
So far, the theory has not really worked for me. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that I picked a very busy season in my life to start this – between April 2 and June 30, we had three weeks when we didn’t have house guests.
Still, though, I could have seen some improvement in my life, but I really didn’t witness too much, other than my being slightly more aware of those habits in my life I want to change. Hmm.
I’ve been mulling over why this may be the case, and a few weeks ago, Zen Habits had an article that I think may shed some light for me.
Kaizen is a Japanese word that basically means continuous but very small change. This idea can really increase the momentum needed for habit change, because it works up to change gradually – kinda like baby steps.
I’m not into zen at all, but I don’t think this is necessarily a spiritual concept. The truth found in the Bible – “you reap what you sow” – can actually be applied here as well. If you choose to continually cultivate soil and plant good seeds, your reward is a good crop.
And how this Japanese word applies to the analogy is this – a farmer doesn’t fertilize the soil, prepare the land for planting, plant the seeds, water the soil, and continue nursing his crop until it’s ready for harvest all in one day. He does these things a bit at a time, and after patience, work, and forbearance, he is rewarded with a bountiful crop.
Applying this to habit change
Photo by Michael Wriston
The easiest habit-changing example is the one also descibed at Zen Habits. Say you’d like to start waking up an hour earlier. You could approach this goal two ways:
1. Set your alarm an hour earlier, fight your body’s natural tendencies the next morning, and make it crawl out of bed, even when it just wants to sleep. After doing this consistently for 30 days, your body, mind, and spirit should be used to it, so it is therefore a new habit.
2. Set your alarm two minutes earlier, and when you wake up the next morning, you can hardly feel the difference. Set it two minutes earlier the next day, thereby making it four minutes earlier than when you first started. Chances are, it won’t feel too differently either. Continue with waking up two minutes earlier every morning, and after 30 days, you’re now waking up a full 60 minutes earlier. Your body was asked to gradually change, and it probably took its cues a bit gentler.
Now, technically, either method could work. My guess is that it depends on your personality, your stage of life, and how difficult this potential habit change is. But after three months of trying the “old school” method of consistently doing a difficult action with the hope of it becoming a habit, I think I’ll try the “kaizen” method this month.
(A side note: I know I have quite a few readers who follow Jesus, like I do. Please don’t let a Japanese word trip you up here. There’s nothing inherently spiritual about this word. In my opinion, you could believe that every word in the Bible is truth, and still see the basic truth in what this word describes.)
My habit change for August
So we’re going to see how this method works for me. By the end of the month, I’d like to include exercising three hours a week into my routine. That’s 30 minutes a day, with one day off. For me, this means starting the week of Monday, September 1, I’d like to begin this habit by working out three hours that week. So August, in a sense, is “training” up for that (those of you who work out like it’s going out of style, stop laughing).
- August 4-10, I’d like to work out a total of at least 60 minutes. That’s one hour. Hardly anything.
- August 11-17, I’d like to work out a total of at least 90 minutes. One and a half hours. Totally do-able.
- August 18-24, I’d like to work out a total of at least 120 minutes. Two hours.
- August 25-31, I’d like to work out a total of at least 150 minutes. Two and a half hours.
If you did basic math, you’ll see the first week is six days with 10 minutes of exercise. The second week is 15 minutes – only a five minute increase. The third week is 20 minutes, six days a week. The last week is 25 minutes. Each week is a five-minute daily increase. In my opinion, a five-minute increase is almost nothing. Yet from August 1 to August 31, I’m working out 15 minutes more daily.
So I’m hoping by September 1, I’ll have worked up to 30 minutes a day, six days a week. Then I can start my habit change goal of consistent, regular, beneficial exercise.
Do you have a habit in your life you’d like to replace? Does trying to replace an unwanted habit with a wanted one just seem overwhelming sometimes? I know it does for me. But since we’re in this for the long-haul, it’s worth it to pursue methods that produce lasting results. We need to shower ourselves with grace as we pursue parenting, home management, and being a loving spouse, that’s for sure – but we also need to honor God with our lives by being good stewards of what He’s given us.
Think of those little things in your life that, stacked on top of each other, build a wall that prevents you from being who you really want to be.
- Do you want to become more of a reader and less of a TV watcher? Then this month, gradually replace two hours of TV-watching time with reading time.
- Do you want to stop drinking soda and drink more water? Gradually replace your daily soda intake with water, until you no longer drink soda at all.
- Would you like to go to bed by 10 p.m. instead of midnight? Slowly call it a night a few minutes earlier each night, until you find yourself yawning and ready to hit the sack by 10.
What is your goal for August? Remember, habit change works best when we stick with only one, so I’d encourage you to pursue the one most on your mind. If you’re inspired to focus on this, leave a comment and share your goal. We can encourage each other by publishing it here. Do you have a method of changing habits that has worked well for you in the past? I’d love to hear about it.
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