Ready to Upgrade Your Habits? Start By Making These 3 Lists
A friend of mine recently called my attention to a habit I didn’t even know I had. Apparently, after I drink something particularly satisfying, I follow it up with a lip smack and an ahhhh!
I’m sure that my audible celebration of a sip well taken started out as a joke, but because I did it so often, my dramatic drinking became a habit that, to my amuzehorror, I now realize I do even when I’m alone.
We are all riddled with habits—habits we’re aware of and habits we’re oblivious to, habits we love, habits we hate, habits we love/hate, and habits that just kind of are what they are: Here I go, putting on underpants again.
I don’t think very many of us spend a whole lot of time thinking about the habits we do or don’t have, but as you prepare to create a new habit, taking stock of what you’ve already got going on is beneficial because:
●︎ It’s inspiring to realize how many excellent habits you have.
●︎ Becoming aware of your not-so-great habits enables you to change them.
●︎ It’s always nice to take the time to get to know yourself better.
●︎ You can pick up useful tricks and identify avoidable obstacles by studying your existing habits, which will come in handy as you create future ones.
Before you dive into a new habit: Get to know your existing habits.
In order to familiarize yourself with your habits, please get your notebook and make three lists: Five good habits that you seem to have always had (behaviors that you don’t consciously remember creating but that are very much a part of your identity), five habits that you’ve intentionally and successfully created and/or quit, and five habit upgrades that you’d love to make.
At first you may have trouble coming up with stuff for your lists, but stick with it and I promise you, the longer you sit there and think, the more ideas will pop into your head.
For example, here’s what I came up with for myself:
●︎ Five good habits that I’ve always had: Being tidy, being quick and consistent with my pleases and thank-yous, encouraging others, being grateful, stopping to smell all flowers in my path.
●︎ Five intentionally created or ditched habits: Quitting smoking, hydrating every morning upon waking, making daily check-ins on Mom, letting stress go more quickly, being more emotionally in tune/ available.
●︎ Five habit upgrades I’d love to make: Slow down, become a more active activist, quit complaining, don’t groan whenever I get out of a chair (another one that started as a joke and that I now perform in public, loudly), sing more.
Research shows that in order for us to really stick to a habit, we have to believe in our ability to change.
If you don’t yet have evidence that you can transform whatever habit it is that you’re working on, even if you have proof that you’ve tried to change and failed in the past, you have to believe that you can do it anyway.
Look at the first two lists you just made, the good habits you just naturally seem to have and the habits you’ve been intentional about, and take a moment to get a little stuck up about how inspiring and capable you are.
You chose to make these habits part of your identity, whether you realized you were doing it or not, which means you can choose to welcome in the habits you’ve got on your third list, the habit upgrades you’d love to make.
Believing that you’re capable of doing something is easiest when you’ve got proof.
But if you’re attempting something you’ve either never tried before or have tried and failed to do, believing it’s possible can be achieved at first simply by making the decision to believe. Just believing isn’t as hard to accomplish as you might think.
Belief is a muscle, and when you’re changing a stubborn old bad habit and really stretching yourself, a hell-bent decision is the perfect personal trainer to get your belief in shape.
For example, when I became unavailable to be broke anymore, I had a teeny, tiny inkling of belief that I could be financially successful someday, but my conviction was so wimpy and shaky that I needed to build a fortress of determined decidedness around it to keep my belief from withering and dying.
In the early days, I decided to keep pushing myself to do all the stuff I had to do that scared the hell out of me—get over my fraud complex and announce to the world that I was a coach, put up a website with a picture of myself wearing makeup on it, charge actual money for my services—and to keep looking for proof that what I desired was possible.
This decision slowly but surely strengthened my belief that I, Jen Sincero, would one day pay extra to check a bag instead of wearing all my sweaters onto the plane and doing carry-on for free. I didn’t get started on my journey fully believing I could make money; at first I decided just to believe I could.
Commit to change and conviction will follow.
Refer now to the third list you made—the five habit upgrades you’d love to make—and either pick a habit off this list or choose something else that has real meaning for you.
Ideally you’ll choose something that inspires you, but not something that’s so gigantic you give up before you even start.
The purpose here is to give yourself the chance to fully experience the habit-forming process and to see some real results—not to get frustrated, quit, or pull a muscle your first day out.
Please pick one and only one habit that you’re either eager to cultivate or that you can’t wait to drag to the curb, something that would give you:
●︎ A sense of being the person you know you’re meant to be
●︎ A sense of empowerment
●︎ An improved quality of life
●︎ A sense of accomplishment (meaning this new habit feels attainable but still large and important and bragworthy).
Before you get too attached to the habit itself, think about the desire driving you to choose this habit, and do your best to make sure you’ve made the wisest choice possible.
For example, if your desire is to have a better relationship with your partner, maybe achieving that isn’t about getting into the habit of going on date nights and cooking more dinners together, but about really listening to them or telling them how much you appreciate them or noticing and being grateful for all the reasons you chose to be with them in the first place.
I’m in the habit of having wine whenever I eat red sauce or a steak, but I’m also in the habit of being a total pantywaist when it comes to drinking these days—I can’t sleep and I get hungover from just one glass.
I toyed with quitting drinking altogether, but that seemed rather overdramatic considering I hardly drink at all, so now I have a tiny little sake cup that I sip my wine out of (smack, ahhhhh!), and this little thimbleful allows me to enjoy some wine without being in pain the next morning.
I met my desire not to feel awful by cutting back (easier habit), not by cutting myself off completely (more difficult habit), and it’s done the trick.
Take a moment to think about the most successful way you can design this habit to reflect your desires instead of just leaping in cold turkey, repeating past attempts that didn’t work, or thoughtlessly doing what everyone else does or tells you to do.
Connect with the emotions that your desire to be this new person calls up.
Once you’ve figured out what your habit is, lock into the decision to make it happen by imagining all the details of how achieving this habit will feel.
Make this journey you’re on much bigger than the new habit itself (because it is). Step fully into the identity of the person you’ll be when you embody this habit and fall in love with who you’re becoming.
Realize that becoming the kind of person who does what you’re setting out to do is an act of self-love and respect, that forming this habit means you believe in yourself, and that you’re doing what it takes to give your awesome self everything you desire and deserve.
A version of this excerpt originally appeared in Badass Habits: Cultivate the Awareness, Boundaries, and Daily Upgrades You Need to Make Them Stick by Jen Sincero.
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