In my mid-twenties, a friend introduced me to the world of self-help and I quickly became enamored by it. I traded in my Hunger Games novels for The Law of Attraction and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. With each new book, I became obsessed with the idea of changing my life.
I took copious notes and kept a running list of all the things about my life I wanted to change. It was back then that I first got the idea of starting my own business. But within that bigger vision there were also a bunch of little things I needed to change.
To name a few, I wanted to start meditating, journaling, using affirmations and listening to podcasts. I wanted to stop binging on TV every night and stop going to sleep after 11:00 PM. According to the books I was reading, these were the little habits I needed to change in order to make my bigger visions come true.
The problem was I had no idea how to change my existing habits that had been engrained in my life for years.
It wasn’t until I had a run-in with someone at my work gym that something clicked for me.
New Year, New Me
I stood at the edge of my cube blinking out the window as snow flurries floated down to the streets below. It was a frigid day in early January.
Checking my watch, I spun back into my cube and grabbed my duffle bag. It was gym time. I walked down the aisle of cubes and escaped to the elevators.
On my way down to the gym, I eyed the Notes App on my iPhone that captured all my self-help findings. Out of all these habits I was trying to build, I was lucky that the gym was not one of them. Exercise had been engrained in my routine since I started running track in high school. It was all the other habits that I was having trouble with.
In the gym that day I went through my normal routine of a mile on the treadmill followed by thirty minutes of weights. I had just finished up my second set of reps of hammer curls when I saw someone walking towards me in the mirror.
I turned and saw, to my surprise, my co-worker Tony. Tony and I had been working together for two years but never had I seen him at the gym before. He came up to me wearing a sweaty smile.
“Hey, man! How’s your workout going?” As he drew closer I could hear his sneakers squeaking. They looked brand new.
“Hey Tony, I’m doing well. Haven’t seen you down here at this time before. Do you normally come in the mornings?”
Tony shuffled awkwardly around the weights on the floor. “No. This is my first week at the gym since…. well since I can remember!” He smiled sheepishly. “I’m doing the gym now, and my wife even has me on one of those juice cleanses.”
I could see the expression on Tony’s face. He looked tired but was smiling through it.
“Yup! New Year, New Me.” He continued. “We have a vacation to Bermuda coming up and I want to be in prime shape. You won’t see me eating at Sal’s anymore either!”
He leaned forward to give me a fist bump. I gave him a bump and he walked off, hollering as he left.
“See ya on the bench press Barca!”
I smiled as Tony walked away. It turned out I wasn’t the only one trying to make big changes.
But at the same time, I couldn’t help but think that Tony wouldn’t make it. He was trying to pick up the gym, skip his daily lunch at Sal’s and do a juice cleanse all at once? He was doing too much. How much longer could he last like this? I wasn’t sure he’d make it to February.
I sat down on the bench beside me and pondered on my own habit changing goals. For the last few months I had been trying (and failing) to consistently meditate, journal and use affirmations, all while cutting down on TV.
How was I any different than Tony? Wasn’t I also doing too much?
I looked at myself in the mirror. I was caught up in the New Years Syndrome just like everybody else.
The Habit-Forming Checklist
After my encounter with Tony at the gym that day I started to rethink how I would approach habit-changing differently.
I started to think about how running became a habit in my life and noticed that when I started running it was my sole focus. I wasn’t trying to run, diet, and sleep better all at the same time. No. My focus was to run every day.
And once running was engrained in my routine, many of the other habits fell into place on their own. Running more led to a better diet and more sleep. It was a domino effect.
So I looked back at the habits I wanted to create: meditation, journaling, affirmations. And then I asked myself, if I had to pick just one of these habits to work on, which would it be?
The question alone excited me. Just one? I could definitely do one. I decided my top priority was meditation.
I took out a piece of paper and wrote “Habit-Forming Checklist” at the top. I then numbered the page #1 through #10. I filled in meditation at the top and then all of the other habits in order below it.
After the list was complete, I took my hand and covered up all the habits except for “#1 Meditation.” I decided this would be my focus. Meditate every day. Then once that habit was fully engrained into my routine I could move onto #2, but no sooner.
That year, 2016, I began to move down my “Habit-Forming Checklist” one-by-one until meditation, journaling and affirmations were all daily activities. In that same year I even sold my TV, getting rid of one of my most dangerous habits.
In the end, I was able to avoid the New Years Resolution Syndrome and build essential habits for success into my routine because I applied disciplined focus and went one-by-one.
This simple system can work for you too.
Just start with one.