How I’m Attempting to Build Positive Habits

2018 is a year of personal development.

Last year was such an alternate reality, in that so much time and money was spent on an event (wedding) and other events (other weddings), that there seemed to be no room left over for anything else.

Of course, these are all just excuses that don’t change anything.

The good news is that I have no excuses this year. I have no kids, no pets, no mortgage. Really, the only people my wife and I need to support are ourselves.

The bad news is that this all could change in the next few years, and these long term responsibilities never really go away once they arrive. In other words, if we’re going to face them, we need to be prepared by being the best versions of ourselves that we can be.

With that said, I’ve been really focused on habit-building this year. Namely, good habits.

For the longest time, I’ve been aware of the habits I wanted to have in my life, but for some reason I could never get them to stick.

One particular habit I couldn’t get to stick was regular guitar practice.

In theory, it shouldn’t have been so hard. My guitar sits on a stand out of its case in both my work and living space every single day. Yet, I was hardly ever picking it up and actually plucking the strings.

What was stopping me?

I think there were 4 main reasons I couldn’t solidify the habit:

  1. Not having a plan/structured practice routine
  2. Not having skin in the game
  3. Not having feedback or a way to measure progress
  4. Not choosing a time of day dedicated to practice

No plan

Improvisation is all well and good when you have already solidified a habit, but whenever you set out to develop a new habit that hasn’t yet stuck, I feel there has to be some kind of plan or goal.

With guitar, it was a painful process trying to decide what song to work on, or what scales to practice. I would basically end up picking up the guitar, playing the same songs I always play, and then ending the session dissatisfied because I didn’t learn anything new.

Not only this, but if my wife caught me playing, she’d quickly get annoyed by the repetitiveness of the same handful of songs I would default to playing.

The truth is, I was also annoyed with the repetitiveness.

No skin in the game

This is probably a controversial bullet point, because by no means should you have to spend money to develop a habit. Still, I continue to find that if I don’t put money down on something I want to learn, it becomes a whole lot more difficult to learn.

With guitar, everything I’ve learned has been from free tab and videos online.

Yes, it’s pretty cool that we live in a world where education is so freely available through the internet, but there is literally no consequence for not learning things that are freely available.

Anybody could go to a library and read self-help books non-stop, but what are the direct consequences if we don’t do these things? And even if we do read hundreds of self-help books, who or what is holding us accountable for not applying what we learn to our real lives?

I never paid for guitar lessons, and while this worked up to a certain point, it didn’t help me maintain the positive habit of practicing every day.

No feedback

Without a way to measure progress, it’s hard to know if your efforts in developing a good habit are even paying off.

I could play guitar every day for 15 minutes, but who would tell me that I was getting better if I was only paying for myself (and at times, my poor wife)?

Having a way to track my progress has been key in helping me solidify good habits. It not only allows me to recognize how far I’ve come, but it also helps me recognize how far I have to go.

Dedicated Time

4:00pm is guitar time.

It works for me because it is at the tail-end of the work day, my wife usually isn’t home, and it’s also about an hour before the time I like to workout. Having this dedicated time for practice has made it so much easier to establish the habit.

There are 24 hours in a day and I’m awake for roughly 16 of them. This opens the door for about 32 different time slots for half hour habits, and 64 different time slots for 15-minute habits. That’s a lot of room for dedicated habit-building times.

Once you can start dedicating different times of the day to different activities, you’ll likely find it a lot easier to solidify those good habits you’ve been longing for.

What are some habits you’re trying to develop?

So tell me, what are some of the habits you’re looking to develop this year? What are some tips and tricks you have for getting them to stick?

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