I said in my last journal that waiting for an arbitrary date on the calendar before starting something is silly, and it's better to start it immediately. And as far as I'm concerned, this is true. However, that doesn't change the fact that we are just a few days into 2018, and many people have made resolutions and set goals for the year. And statistically, about 80% of those people will abandon their resolutions within a month and a half, and only 8% will go the distance.
So what's the deal? Why do so many people want to change something or accomplish something, and then just ...stop? What I think it comes down to is something very simple: changing a habit is difficult. You can't very easily go from doing something one way to doing it a completely different way, and expect not to fall back into the old way of doing things.
But that's an excuse. Because I didn't say it couldn't be done, I said it couldn't easily be done. It requires a little bit more than just deciding to do something and expecting to get it right the first time. You're going to fail. You're going to lose focus. You're going to waver. What's going to keep you aligned with your goal is how well you can get back on track after those things happen. "It was too hard" is an excuse that should never enter your mind when it comes to changing your life. Because of course it's hard - otherwise you'd have been doing it that way all along! What's going to make the difference between wanting to do a thing, and doing the thing, is whether you have the tenacity to keep doing it even though it's hard.
There's one really easy way to make sure you stay on track, and it's one that I've talked about countless times in my journal here: accountability. If you or someone else is holding you accountable for doing something, then you're more likely to do it. Having someone else paying attention means that if you back out, or if you fail, then you'll potentially be letting someone else down as well as yourself. Knowing that someone is watching makes you feel bad for not doing what you should be doing, and it keeps you on track because you're not doing it alone.
Coincidentally with the new year, I've been thinking a lot about my habits, what they are, and what they should be. There are things I should be doing on a more regular basis that I'm not, and I want to get into the habit of doing those things. Here's what I would like my daily schedule to look like:
- Write every morning
- Work on weekdays between lunch and dinner
- Work out abs every day
- Work out other body parts about 3 days a week, with no more than 2 days off at a time
I'm sure most of that is fairly self explanatory, but here's a brief summary of each for the sake of completeness. 2017 was the first year I've been paid for my writing. I want to keep that trend going. That means writing (or editing or sending out stories) every day. Working includes writing code, and sending cold emails to attract new clients (more involved than it sounds). Having a strong core is important for posture and general mobility and stability, and your abs can take a pounding daily without issue. I'm not talking about a long workout - that 30 day ab challenge was insane - just 5 or 6 intense minutes each day. I'm also not concerned with having a gorgeous 6-pack, or anything like that - this is a stability and overall wellness measure. It comes incidentally with stretching, which is also important to me. And the "other workouts" portion is to make sure I don't get complacent about the rest of my body, and continue improving it for the foreseeable future.
You may have noticed, that's a lot to keep track of, and a lot of habits to change and then maintain. How do I plan to do it, you may be asking? To answer that, I need to tell you about a budding young comedian named Jerry Seinfeld. He's a fresh new face to the comedy world, and I think
he's worth paying some attention to - that kid is going places. One of
the things he does to help his productivity is just a simple
reinforcement method to make sure he writes a joke every day: he has a calendar.
A great big wall calendar, and every day he writes a joke, he gets to
put a red X over that day. After a few days, he has a chain, and then a
longer chain, and then an even longer chain. After a while, the chain feels
good, and your only responsibility is to not break the chain, because if it breaks, you will know about it.
What that does is it creates personal accountability. Every day, he either wrote a joke, or he didn't, and if he goes a day without writing a joke, he'll have to start that entire chain over again. New Year's Resolutions are basically the same: they're either things you need to do on a regular basis (work out more, lose weight, eat no junk food, read a book a day, etc), or they're long term goals that you should be continually working towards (write a book, learn a new skill, move out of your parents' place, move into your parents' place [fiscal responsibility hype], etc). In both cases, you can be doing something to further that goal every day. And if it's something that's important to you, then why wouldn't you do something every day to move towards it?
What I've decided to do to help with my own goals is along the same lines as what Jerry Seinfeld does. There are chains I can get going (though some of them are 5-on-2-off chains). However, since I have more than one thing to keep track of, a simple calendar will not do. So I made a spreadsheet. It's an Open Document Spreadsheet file, so it should work natively in all spreadsheet programs, and it looks about like this:
Just like Seinfeld's calendar, this is for creating chains and keeping accountability. I'll open the spreadsheet at the end of each day, and put a "Y" in each column where I did the thing that column tracks. That "Y" will turn the cell green, and I will get a chain of green cells. The top row stays in place when scrolling, and the font colour is the same as the conditional background colour, so it's just a solid green. And at the end of the year, all I have to do is copy it to the next worksheet, delete the chains, and change the first date to January 1, 2019 (the rest of the column is "previous date plus one"), and it will be good to go for next year. And if you're reading this, then you're welcome to download and use it yourself.
The first few days for me are sparse, because I only actually created this spreadsheet today, but from January 4 onward, it should be two long columns of green on either side, with a dense patchwork of green in the middle. I'm counting creating the spreadsheet and writing this journal as my writing for the day, and there will be a general and abs workout later. Once this gets going, it will be something I take pride in knowing that I'm keeping up.
But that's only one aspect of this. Because, you see, it would be trivial for me to make this big announcement and then not do anything with it. After all, how would you know? Which is why at the end of each month, I'm going to post a screenshot of how I did for that month. In that way, not only will I know whether I'm keeping up with what I want to do, but anyone who watches my profile here will know as well.
If you decide to download and use this spreadsheet as well, then I encourage you to do something similar: show it to people on a regular basis, and become accountable to them as well as to yourself. And tell whoever you're showing it to that if you don't show it to them, or if it shows that you're not keeping up with what you should be doing, then they have your permission to punish you in some way - and it should be a way that you genuinely hate, as an extra incentive for you to stay on task.
Of course, there's always the possibility that you could fake it - put a "Y" in a cell that shouldn't have one. After all, they're not watching you do the thing, how would they know? Here's the thing about that: they don't actually care. If you say you're writing every day when you're not actually doing that, the only person you're actually lying to is yourself. The only person you're actually hurting is yourself. And if you value that thing so lowly that you'd rather lie about doing it than actually do it, then what business does it have being one of your resolutions in the first place?
When it comes to changing something about your life, the only person who can do it is you, and the only way to do it is to do it. With this spreadsheet, you now have a tool you can use to make sure you stick to doing the things you've said are important to you. Your real priorities are revealed through your actions, and only you can decide what you do.
So what will you do?