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I’m tired of reading about developing better habits. I’m not against good habits. I love a good habit. I’m just against reading another blog post about better habits and how to get them. If all the words that have been expended—and I have read—on the topic were as easy and useful as they sounded, I’d have a plethora of great habits and be living a charmed life.
Neither has happened to me, yet.
Most people try to develop "good" habits because they read something that told them that these 7 habits or those 9 habits were absolutely necessary for success. I think this is a bad notion to bank on.
Most of us know what good habits we want to develop to be successful and most of us know what to do to develop a habit; if you don’t, just Google "habits" and "success." There are great books on habits by the likes of Steven Covey, Charles Duhigg, Gretchen Rubin, Jeremy Dean, Tim Ferriss—not to mention all the other hundreds of bloggers and books.
Now look, I really like many of the people listed above. I own many of their books and have listened to multiple interviews and seen them speak at events where they’ve been featured. Their ideas and information have been extremely useful. I’ve been able to incorporate many good habits into my routine because of the advice and ideas I garnered from them.
But, truth is…
Most of us still don’t have great habits—though we always stop and read one more blog post about how to develop them. We’re desperate for that one hack (we might have missed) that will propel us to better habits.
We keep thinking that if we have better habits we’ll have a more successful life. That’s what everyone keeps telling us. But, I’m not sure why we think there’s a correlation?
Even if we do have good habits, they don’t necessarily guarantee great success. You and I know plenty of people who have great habits but you wouldn’t consider them a success. And vice versa, I know plenty of messy, disorganized people who are successful.
Good habits ≠ great success
Here’s the thing:
I’m not saying developing a good habit isn’t a good idea. I think good habits are necessary—but not for the reason you think.
So what are good habits for?
Good habits are necessary to get you over the time you’re in a slump, you're unmotivated, you’re tired, you're in a dip.
Habits are the grooves your brain falls into when it doesn't have enough power to blast you past your unfocused, procrastinating, fearful, impatient, lazy self.
Given that, then the question becomes:
What are the best habits for you to develop and have in your back pocket so you can access them when you hit one of the rough patches we all experience in life?
Rough patches are always individual and come in different forms: A daily dip, hitting a wall, losing your willpower, feeling fear that shuts you down, listening to negative voices, procrastinating, or just getting a little bummed out.
If you pay attention, you know what your rough patches look like and feel like.
Moving past rough patches through habit
If you’re just trying to develop a "good" habits because some blogger wrote a post or you read some list of "habits of the most successful people," it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to make any of those habits a part of your life.
For any habit to become part of your life I’d suggest you’ll need to go back to your rough patches and personalize the process of habit development.
To start, answer the following 3 questions:
What do your rough patches look like?
When do they typically show up? What are the patterns in your life? Where might you experience a rough patch? How does it look? Do you find yourself with less patience beginning about mid-afternoon? Are you more short-tempered with your kids first thing in the morning because you’re running through all the to-do’s on your list? Do you have a big presentation coming up next week and your stomach clutches every time you think of it?
What habits do you want to develop to manage your rough patches?
There are lots of great habits we can develop. But we can’t tackle all of them and, more importantly, not all of them will help us manage our unique life. So, if you want to develop a particular habit know how it’s going to help you manage your life better. Knowing exactly why you’re doing something will keep you more committed to it.
How can you personalize this habit to make it your own?
Why is this habit important for you? What’s it going to do for you? My answer or some blogger's answer may not be your answer. Personalize the habit for you to make it stick.
Here’s an example:
You realize that one of your rough patches is mid-day or mid-week when you’re tired and in the middle of a busy schedule and you’re not always as patient with colleagues, loved ones or your kids…
So you decide you want to develop the habit of meditation because you know the science is proving that the practice of meditation can help develop a calmer, less emotional, more patient focus on the world…
But every time you think about meditation you feel silly. There’s a little voice in your head telling you it’s too woo-woo. Your friends would get a good laugh. Besides, you tell yourself, where am I going to find the time to sit quietly on a pillow and meditate for any hour? I’m already on overload. I can’t get up any earlier and I’m shot at the end of the day.
How are you going to personalize a meditation habit so it works for you?
Look for 20 minutes sandwiched in between other parts of your life. It might be 20 minutes on a commute, 20 minutes in a car after a commute or waiting to pick up a child, 20 minutes early in the morning before your household is awake, 20 minutes in the office before everyone arrives or after everyone is gone. You’ve got 20 minutes somewhere in your day.
Experiment with simple meditations. I’d recommend starting with a guided meditation as a start. There are lots of free guided meditations you can access via podcasts or apps. Tara Brach has many free 20-minute meditations available via her podcast—but there are plenty of others available. Experiment and find a teacher you like.
Look for an easy location you can sit fairly quietly. It might be your car, a bus, train, park bench, outside your office building, in an empty conference room, at a Starbucks—you can find a spot. Enjoy for 20 minutes.
No one needs to know—so don’t worry about the woo-woo backlash. Play around and experiment. Have some fun. You’ll be on your way to developing a habit that can actually help you live a better life.
You can apply this technique to any number of rough patches and develop any number of habits to get you over the obstacles. Here’s a recap:
Identify your rough patches
Is your rough patch first thing in the morning?
Is your rough patch mid-day when you hit a dip?
Is your rough patch when you’re stressed and you go for sugar?
Is your rough patch when you’re bored and you go for the TV?
Is your rough patch those all-day meetings?
Is your rough patch at the end of the day when you just check out?
Is your rough patch the weekend, when you turn into a big Idaho potato?
Identify what habit you think will help you better manage
Reading more books
Be creative, think out of your box and experiment!
Heidi is an independent, certified life coach with several decades of experience in the corporate and non-profit sector. She uses the power of books to help her clients reach the next chapter in their life journey. To get free resources and a weekly newsletter sign-up on her website: UnHingeYourself.com