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The Art of Creating Better Habits

How a simple realization about habits changed everything for me

Man working on his computer late at night in the dark
I created new habits to improve how much I worked on my goal

Introduction

Last time, I went over how to start and complete a goal, and briefly spoke about habits, today’s topic. When my father taught me about habits, he stated they were very powerful and important since creating, stopping, or changing one can make an enormous difference, and I couldn’t agree more. When I started forming a new habit with Ridiculously Easy Goals, I changed from barely making any progress to consistently writing over an hour every day. However, before I could make any progress on my goal, I had to create a habit first.


My father explained that habits are anything I do on a consistent basis. Some habits I’m aware of, some not, and some aren’t given any conscious thought such as riding a bike or walking, which are called automatic habits. Additionally, he told me there are two main types of habits: limiting and empowering. Limiting habits make it harder for me to achieve my goals and make me wish I didn’t do them. Empowering habits, on the other hand, are the exact opposite and help me achieve my goals. Furthermore, these types of habits can take form in six different ways, but I’ll be going over four of them as I believe the other two warrant their own entry. With that being said, what does each variation of habit entail?


The first form of habit is activities. I was told activities are what make up the twenty-four hours in my day, and the time I spend on each activity every day is usually the same or pretty similar. And similar to habits, there are two types of activities: empowering, which helps me complete my goal, and escape, which helps me escape reality and provides me with short-term comfort in the process. The second is feelings. They’re, well, what I feel every day. They can be influenced by many things, such as someone saying or doing something or my own thoughts, making it important to note why exactly I feel a certain way. Next are words. Words consist of what I think, speak, and write daily. They can be either positive, negative, or neutral. Finally, the last one is thoughts. While they seem to be a part of words, thoughts can take the form of mental images or mini movies. Typically, these are focused on past or future events. With all this information, I analyzed my habits of the prior year.


My Old Habits

As I’ve mentioned before, I was trying to create my fictional world while working for the first time in my life, and I was having a very difficult time without realizing it. My days usually consisted of working for five hours at my job, traveling to and from work for an hour in total, sleeping for seven, anything hygienic for an hour, eating for an hour, and watching videos and playing games for nine hours. There were times I’d write down ideas for my book, but these occurrences were so rare that I couldn’t include them on the activity list. When I wrote these activities down, I finally realized just how little time and effort I was putting into my book. I mean, I hadn’t set any time aside to work on it, and over a third of my day was filled with escape activities. Some part of me wanted to defend myself, but that quickly stopped once my father asked how many hours I had written in the days leading up to our session.


For my feelings, I can’t remember much besides feeling disappointed I had to work, annoyed while working, relieved once my shift was over, and exhausted from my workday. For all I know, these were the only things I felt during that year. And eventually, each feeling took its toll on me, causing me to change in some way. My disappointment for having to work became so excessive, in fact, I felt the need to wake up several hours earlier, giving me more time to relax and allowing me to mentally and emotionally prepare myself. Sometimes, I would prioritize this relaxation so much I’d leave later than usual and have to bike as fast as I could to make it to work on time. While working, there would be several instances every day from coworkers, customers, or myself that would get me annoyed, and the only ways to get rid of that annoyance were to either let it fizzle out or stop working in some way. The only problem with that, though, was the fact I chose not to take breaks in the middle of work until a few months before I left this job. Unfortunately, this choice caused me to become a lot more irritable. When it came to my relief of my shift finally being over, I began seeking it out any way I could. As a result, I started using my break to leave thirty minutes early. And when I got home, I felt thoroughly exhausted and emotionally drained, making me not want to work on my book.


The words I’d use on a consistent basis were fairly negative. Whenever my friends asked about my workday, I always had something to complain about, and my descriptions always used harsh words as I took any chance to cuss or insult someone. As you may have guessed, my thoughts were no better. While performing my job, I’d get the occasional thought that something was taking too long, there were too many customers, my coworkers or myself weren’t doing well, or of wanting to go home. But, a majority of my thoughts were sporadic and trying to entertain me while I slowly waited for my time to leave. And at home, my thoughts were centered around being too tired to write, wanting to relax, and not wanting to go back to work. Obviously, these thoughts didn’t benefit me in any way, and I needed to get rid of them quickly.


From what I can remember, nearly all of the mental images and mini movies I created were related to my writing. At work, my mind formed images of my characters and played mini movies of scenes I wanted to write. At home, it was the same thing, only this time it was while I was trying to fall asleep. On top of these thoughts, I’d imagine what it’d be like to be an accomplished author: go on talk shows, be interviewed, and go to conventions.


Creating New Habits

Once I finished writing down my habits of the past year, my father instructed me on how to change them and build new ones. In order to improve my habits, I needed to stop doing habits that didn’t help me, start doing ones that would help me, change some to better help me, and continue the habits that were already helping me. Furthermore, I could create something called a complementary habit that can make it easier to perform my other habits. With this information and some guidance, I created a list of changes.


First, I wanted to stop:

  • Becoming negative when talking about my workday

  • Getting annoyed during work

  • Leaving work early

  • Being too exhausted to make any progress on my book

Next, I wanted to start:

  • A habit centered around my writing

  • An exercise-based complementary habit that helps with my writing

  • Taking breaks at work

For the habits I wanted to change to better help me, I wanted to change:

  • How much time I spent relaxing

  • How much time I spent working on my book

Finally, I wanted to continue:

  • Being disappointed about having to go to work

  • Feeling relieved when my shift was over

  • Waking up early

  • Creating mental images and mini movies centered around my book

I wanted to continue being disappointed and relieved because I believed they weren’t inherently negative; it’d make sense to be disappointed to have to stop writing and relieved when I could go home and continue where I left off.


After my list was created, my father gave me suggestions on how to build my new habits. Out of all of the suggestions he gave me, some stood out to me, and a few of them worked better than others. These are the ones I decided to try:

  • Associate good things with doing the new habit

  • Associate bad things with performing the old habit

  • Tie the new habit to an existing one

  • Schedule the new activity for a certain time every day

  • Get an accountability partner

  • Add peer pressure by telling people I know

  • Create a reward system

  • Track my progress

With the help of these suggestions, I was able to more thoroughly improve my habits.


First, I wanted to associate good things with:

  • Working on my book, such as being able to help people through my writing and fulfill my dream

  • Taking a break at work, such as being able to calm down and have enough energy to write when I get home

I felt it was important to associate my reason to write with actually writing, and have my nearly lifelong hobby be my reason to relax at work. Reminding myself of my reason to write could give me more determination and help me work better. And realizing that taking a break at work can help me fulfill my dream is very persuasive.


Next, I wanted to associate bad things with:

  • Being negative when talking about my day, such as never truly leaving work since I take the emotions I developed at work home with me

  • Becoming angry at work, such as wasting what little time I have in life being a host of negative emotions

The idea that “life is too short” seemed like a good reason to stop my negativity. If I have a short and limited amount of time left, why would I want to spend a portion of that being miserable?


Then I wanted to tie:

  • My new habit of writing to my new habit of exercising

  • My habit of thinking about my book to my already existing habit of leaving work

I thought it’d be helpful to combine writing with two things I do frequently. By thinking of my book while commuting home I’d already have my book on my mind, and would be more willing to write since I’m already in the mindset. The same goes for exercising; since I’m bettering myself with exercise, I’d want to continue improving my life, which would also lead to more writing.


Finally, I wanted to:

  • Use some of the time I had before work to write instead of just relaxing

  • Have my father become my accountability partner, and check in with him every week

  • Tell my family and friends about my book to add peer pressure

  • Create a reward system where I get to try my hand at a recipe if I complete my minimum two weeks in a row

  • Begin tracking my progress with a calendar

Now that I knew what changes I wanted to make and an idea of how to change them, I was ready to improve my habits and life. It wasn’t immediate, but I started seeing differences. The time I had set aside for relaxation in the morning was now being used to fulfill my dream. Multiple times a week, I’d go to the gym and run, which gave me more motivation to write. At work, I consistently took breaks, allowing me to recharge. And my mood toward work slowly got better. It was a new, wonderful experience that I had needed for a very long time.


The Importance of Changing Habits

As you can see, habits are very powerful and an important part of life. I mean, I had similar habits in high school. Nearly every day, I would play games, create story ideas, try and fail to write, and get annoyed at school or myself. The only thing I wanted to do was go home and relax. These habits defined me without me realizing, and they felt so natural that I never questioned them. Why would I? What I was doing seemed fine to me, and I found creating dozens of story ideas to be fulfilling. But after changing my habits and making great progress on my book, I realized that, in a way, creating those story ideas was a type of escape activity. As much as I want to think they were useful, they were keeping me away from focusing on and completing a single story.


With that being said, I believe being able to change habits is invaluable. If I didn’t, my life would be completely different, and all of the progress I made to become a better person wouldn’t exist. I would still be working fast food, I’d still be an angry person, and I wouldn’t be writing. It’s amazing to think that all this change stemmed from simply realizing what I did on a daily basis, something that I, and many people, don’t pay attention to. I’m not sure what my life would’ve been like if my father hadn’t reached out to me. All I know is that, by changing my habits, an entirely different future opened up for me because what I do every day well and truly matters.


And habits aren’t the only part of life that can have this much of an impact on a person. There are four more concepts with equal importance that I have yet to cover. I believe that these five are what make up a human being, and can be easily overlooked similar to habits. Having said that, the next topic I’ll go over is beliefs.


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