Making a Habit Sustainable

looking up at redwood trees
Trees can keep growing for centuries because they add only one ring of growth each year.

Here’s my Second Habit Tip

Last week I mentioned my first tip when creating a habit of doing The Work: attach it to another habit that is already established. 

I call this finding a niche in my day for The Work. What makes it a niche is that it is protected, or sheltered, by the other habit. A new habit can grow nicely when it’s tucked up next to another well established habit. 

Now let’s look at another really important factor for me when establishing a habit.

Tip 2: Start Small

​It’s natural to want to go from nothing to a well established habit overnight, but it usually backfires for me when I do this. I call this being overly ambitious.

When I start a new habit I like to start slow. The main thing I’m concerned with at first is that my habit becomes a routine. At this point, showing up itself is far more important than anything I actually do when I sit to do The Work. 

If I never get the habit started, then I’ll never have a chance to do my work. But if I can slowly start a habit and nurture it, even if it’s slow at first, then it can grow to support me in the long term

The Starting Point Is a Delicate Time

​It is the time when I can easily change my mind, decide it’s too much work, or back out for any number of reasons. And more commonly, it is the time when “not doing anything” becomes my passive way of never getting started.

So to prime the pump, I like to start my new habit by doing very little more than showing up each time. To start with, I like to make my practice time 5 or 10 minutes every day, not 30+ minutes. If I start with 30 minutes, I may do well for a while, but I’m much more likely to think, “This is too much work,” and stop. 

Also, life gives all kinds of interference. 

If I’m set on doing The Work 30 minutes every day, and one day I can’t do it for 30 minutes, then I may quit altogether. But if I’m only doing The Work 5 minutes a day, I can roll with the punches and find time anyway, despite the interference

It Doesn’t Mean I’ll Always Do 5 Minutes Though

I like to start slow but, once the routine starts to catch, I may increase the time a little. But I never like to rush it. Only when I feel that I want to do a little more, then I increase my practice time. Each time I increase the time, I have to go through another adjusting period because it’s really a new habit I’m introducing. 

There has to be a genuine desire to do more. It can’t be because “I should.” Shoulds almost always backfire. So I increase my time only if I really want to.

In the Meantime I Become Happy with Short Times

Byron Katie sometimes say, “if you’re in a big hurry, slow it down.” I take this as a turnaround for myself. Slow = fast. And so I really slow it down sometimes. Instead of expecting myself to write a whole Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet and question it in one sitting, I may take several days to write a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet. 

And instead of questioning one statement from my worksheet in one day, I may take a week to question it. One day, I’ll start by just answering questions 1 and 2. The next day, I’ll just answer questions 3 and 4. The next day, I’ll just find the turnaround to the self and three examples. The next day, I’ll find the turnaround to the other and three examples. And the last day, I’ll find the turnaround to the opposite and three examples. 

This “slow cook” approach is perfect for doing The Work in a daily, 5-10 minute niche. Suddenly, in 5 minutes a day, I can do an infinite amount of work over the long run. This is very satisfying. I’m not biting off more than I can chew, and I’m allowing time for my habit to build.

There may be times when I start to do more, but I can always come back to this baseline of just 5 minutes to do my work. This makes it easy to roll with the punches without getting stopped completely. Slow growth is sustainable for me.

Want to start a slow habit like this with group support? The Work 101 for Busy People uses just this approach.

Have a great week,

“For people who enter this inner world, the world of inquiry, jobs become secondary. Freedom is everything. Jobs come, jobs go, companies rise and fall, and you’re not dependent on that.” Byron Katie​, Question Your Thinking, Change the World

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