In the middle of the streak, that’s when it happened — my habit fell apart. I was riding on air, not just metaphorically but physically,I was literally in a plane on my way to my dreams.
But habits are fickle creatures. They don’t stick around for long if you don’t pay them much attention.I had been very focused on them since reading the book, Superhuman by Habit. I would stay up late to make sure they all got done before bed or get started really early if I knew the day might be consumed by other things. But, you can only burn the candle at both ends for so long before it comes back to haunt you. And with my trip to Thailand coming up, planning a birthday party for a family member and top that all off with moving everything I had into storage — I was more like torching the candle at both ends! What came next was probably inevitable.
To make matters worse, I had just published a post called 500 words on 500 words over at Medium, celebrating the experience and pledging to continue my writing habit after the 30 days were up, but by now, you know that didn’t last long.
Restarting the Habit
Today, I’m restarting the habit. I’m not naive enough to think this will be the last time, but I’m determined to not forget this valuable lesson — one that I hope I won’t need to re-learn too many times before it sticks.
Here’s what I learned: Habits are easier to continue than to restart.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have at least tried the “do it terribly” approach recommended by Claudia Altucher, wife of one of my favorite authors. Maintaining the habit of showing up at the page for writing, or in Claudia’s example showing up at the mat for yoga is 99% of the maintenance — if you decide not to do the yoga after rolling out your mat, that’s ok because at the very least you can pretty much assure yourself you’ll be back the next day to try again. Getting to the paper (or screen) is a big part of the habit.
Still, there are times when you may not be able to keep all your habits and goals active — some days, there’s just not enough time for them all. So in these cases, what should you do?
Build a Hierarchy of Habits
My thoughts are to prioritize your habits, so you aren’t tempted to keep some lower priority ones just to have a full checklist and miss out on keeping the most crucial ones active.
For example, during my chaotic weeks and even while travelling, I still kept a lot of my other habits active — but writing being so important to my other goals like publishing weekly, and creating — THAT should have taken top priority. Not just for what the habit creates, but for the investment it took to build that routine.
Oh and of course, Facebook at the airport or a movie on the flight can be a nice way to pass some time, but not at the expense of such an important habit. I’m sure there was enough time to write first and still check Facebook later.
Forget Three — Two Strikes and The Habit is Out
If I had to do it over again, I would never have let such an important habit drop. If I missed it once, sure, it’s not great, but as Tynan so adamantly warned me in Superhuman by Habit – “Absolutely never skip twice”.
But I didn’t listen. Well that’s not true — sadly I failed with my eyes WIDE OPEN. I guess I had to learn for myself. Looking back, I think I would’ve gone as far as asking Sherice (my wife) to splash water on my face until I got those 500 Words written (Sherice, I’m sure you would have enjoyed that more than me –right? :P ).
At the end of the day, I see it was just my willpower that had been zapped from all the activities. If I knew at the time how much effort it would take to get back on the wagon, I probably would’ve done things differently–like get a little less sleep.
Sure, you should also get proper rest, as there’s a lot of research that willpower isn’t at its best in these less than optimal conditions. But even a poorly executed habit with lack of sleep is better than letting it drop altogether. Especially, if you’re like me and that chain of x days of success spurs you on.
So what do you do when habits fall apart?
First, make sure they are habits you still want in the first place, then if they are — get back on course. And make sure you hold on tight next time, because starting over — isn’t just hard, it’s not guaranteed. If you’re not careful, you could wake up weeks or months from now with nothing more than an intention to get started again.
When you do, don’t think about the time lost — just get started. You will be better off than if you don’t.
Thankfully, it just took me a week, but every day since has been much harder than before. I believe that will change as I get used to the new time zone and schedule, but even if it doesn’t, I will fight through!
Why? Because continuing is ultimately easier than rebuilding when things fall apart.