Updated: Dec 28, 2020
For many Messy Desk types, habits are difficult. Repetition feels confining or boring to those who think of themselves as free spirits. We may be such rebels that we itch under even self-imposed restrictions. Creatives often want the ability to work when the Muse hits, not when the clock demands. And some of us have a hard time establishing habits because we get distracted or we just plain forget to do things.
I have been reading a lot on habits and the current scientific theories discussing how habits are formed and used. It turns out that habit isn't a straitjacket, but rather an amazing tool that our brains use to free up our conscious minds for more important activities.
Think about driving, for example. Do you remember the first time you ever drove a car? You knew what the gas and brake did, but you had to consciously think about pressing the correct pedal to stop or go. If you drive a lot now, I am sure that you seldom think about what your feet are doing on the pedals. Your brain has put those details on autopilot. In fact, a whole lot of driving becomes second nature. You are making split-second decisions constantly (what speed? which lane? how far from the car ahead?) while the front of your brain conversing with your passenger or singing along with your favorite tunes. How awesome is that?
We can harness this amazing ability of our brains to make room in our lives for thinking Big Thoughts. If we prioritize a yucky-but-necessary task just long enough to build a habit, then after that we just DO the yucky-but-necessary while our conscious mind is working on much more important things.
Once we have one habits rooted well in our lives, we can grow a healthy vine of habits to automate all those boring things. You probably have a vine already in place somewhere in your life. My initial morning vine goes something like this: Alarm goes off; I hit snooze; the dog and cat go crazy and don't let me go back to sleep; I get up; I put on my slippers; I go into the bathroom, closing the door behind me to keep the cat in (so he doesn't try to eat the dog food my spouse is dishing out in the kitchen); I use the toilet; feed the cat; scoop the cat litter; wash my hands...
You get the idea. If I wanted to add a habit in the morning, it would be best to add it into the routine I already have in place. I think of it as growing a leaf on the vine. My new year's resolution this year is to seriously work on an exercise habit. I plan to add riding my exercise bike right after the hand-washing.
Using the vine idea might make me more successful than I have been in other Januaries. My established morning habit will act as a cue for the new habit.
In addition to vines, there are many other strategies to get positive habits to take root. Using the inverse of some of these strategies--or replacing one habit with another--can help you weed out bad habits.
If you are interested in learning more about growing and encouraging good habits, watch for more blog entries on this topic. If you would like a heads up when those articles appear, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add you to the list.