Relapsing into old habits

Photo courtesy of Chris Martino (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Chris Martino (Creative Commons)

I started a new habit at the first of the year. I took part in a challenge in which my goal was to write at least 300 words a day, and I made sure that every morning, part of my routine was to spend time quietly writing and achieving that goal.

I confess that I did not write “post-able” copy every day – some days were spent journaling. But I stuck with the habit of sitting down to write for at least 15-20 minutes no matter what. I built up enough blogs to schedule two weeks out – so when I did write, the pressure was off because I could choose when to post and was not writing and posting the same day.

I continued the practice into February, but then something started to happen. There were a few days when I hit snooze too many times, turned on the news, or found some other obligation that seemed more important. In doing so, I neglected my writing. In looking back at my writing file, there are a number of dates missing. It became almost hit and miss. The number of scheduled posts dwindled.

I found myself stressing more about the fact that when I first got up, I didn’t have a compelling topic to write about, and made excuses to myself about why I wouldn’t spend that time writing and would do something else until I had an idea. Of course, once I got distracted there was no idea. And I didn’t feel as good about myself as I did when I was consistently writing.

I relapsed into old habits. I lost my willpower.

In his book, “The Power of Habit,” author Charles Duhigg says, “This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.”

I realized what I did in January was get up, do my devotions, and then open my file to start writing. That was my inflection point, and became my habit. I didn’t turn on the tv, I didn’t check email. I got down to the business of writing first.

Then in February, there were some bad weather days and other reasons that I chose to check the news or open my email after I finished my devotions. Then one thing led to another and even if I did open that file to write, it was with the distractions and noise of other activities.

The inflection point of finishing my devotions was the point at which I had the choice to stick with my writing habit or not.

And that’s where I failed.

Duhigg also states that “willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs.”

With renewed resolve, I’m going to strengthen my willpower muscle. Starting now, I will get back to opening that writing file at the inflection point and spending at least a small amount of focused, quiet writing time each morning before letting in those other diversions.

I am also examining other areas of my life to see where I need better habits, whether that means adding or subtracting a practice. There are likely other inflection points which can be triggers to better habits at work, in my exercise program, and at home.

Where do you need to flex your willpower muscle?