Leap Year Habits

The peg-legged month of February is quickly upon us, and this year its gait is even more angular than normal. To all of you born on February 29, happy birthday. It’s been four years coming. 🥳

February is as good a time as any to start something new. Austin Kleon has a fun 29 Day Challenge on his site that I like the look of. Since February is the shortest month it’s way easier to start a new habit in than January, right? (At least February doesn’t feel like it lasts forever as January sometimes does.)

Pick a habit you want to start, print off the sheet, and cross off the days you accomplish it. Don’t Break the Chain! I’m going to work on Intermittent Fasting every day.

Getting Goals and Habits to Stick

Over the past year I’ve had a significant change in the way I deal with goals and habits.

For a long time I wasn’t a person that set goals. I felt better without them, and was able to get more done when I wasn’t setting goals. (I blame Leo Babauta for sharing this idea. I really took it to heart.) I thought about things I wanted to do, but I wouldn’t go through the process of setting goals or tracking them.

In the end of 2017 I wanted to establish some habits. They are small things that I wanted to become better at, like writing in a journal and reading certain kinds of books. I wanted to be the kind of person who writes in a journal every day. I found a habit tracking app I like, called Streaks, and set out to see if simply tracking whether I do an action each day can help me establish a habit.

It turns out this really works for me. I enjoy clicking the box to say I’ve done something and the small reward of seeing my streak grow. After reading Atomic Habits I started to chain these small actions together. I added things like flossing my teeth, meditating each day, and daily writing. Just adding more things to my habit tracking app didn’t mean I actually did them, but eventually each of these habits has taken hold and become part of who I am. I don’t do any of theses things at a very high level. My writing won’t inspire millions and my journals won’t be carefully read in the future. That’s not why I do it. I wanted to improve and adopt actions that I admire.

Here are a couple of the keys that have made a difference for me:

  • Don’t worry about starting on January 1The day to set a new goal or begin a new habit is right now. Everyone knows that New Year’s Resolutions are arbitrary, but I also think we sometimes don’t start new things because the beginning doesn’t feel significant enough. (If I start exercising on 11 I know I’ll stick with it all year long!) That’s rubbish, and we all know it. Start your resolutions on the 15th or the 6th or the 23rd. When you start really doesn’t matter. Getting started does.
  • Gamification can help. I know that there are some people who are incredibly effective at using gamification to change their lives. (I’m looking at you, Nerd Fitness community!) Designing epic quests or creating an alter ego doesn’t work for me, but the simple gamification of keeping a streak alive does. Find out if gamification works for you, and use it if it does.
  • Don’t try to be epic. For years, since childhood, I tried to write in a journal consistently. The problem was that I never thought the things I was writing were worth anyone’s time to read! I was so focused on the vague future when someone would read what I wrote that I psyched myself out of writing at all. Now I just make sure I write something. Some days my journal is just a picture. Some days I write a lot. Getting the benefits of journaling was not a matter of being good at it, but simply of doing it.
  • Break big tasks down into chunks. Blogging and writing in public is another thing I wanted to do, but it takes so much time. Trying to brainstorm an idea, write out a post, edit it, publish, and promote it all on the same day is something I can do if I’m on vacation, but not when I have a regular day with work, school, family, and whatever other things pop up. Reading about Jeff Goins’ writing process really helped me. Now I chunk my writing process into three tasks: generating ideas, writing a post, and the steps of editing, publishing, and promoting. My goal is to do two of the three each day. The process of chunking has made writing less scary and something I’m able to do more consistently.

Our daily actions determine who we will become. Use small, simple steps to help you become the person you want to be.

The Profound Power in Showing Up

All skills, habits, hobbies, and jobs that are worth doing take time and repetition. They don’t come easily or without effort.

The process of acquiring these skills can be monotonous. Write 500 words. Throw 50 changeups. Create a lesson plan. Play your scales. Cook pasta. Repeat tomorrow and the next day and the next. It takes thousands of repetitions before something amazing happens, before the work becomes art. We usually don’t know exactly when the magic will happen and the wait can be tough.

Showing up to practice is so important. We’re all striving to make different kinds of art. The thing we have in common is that the only way to get there is to show up over and over again. We have to try and fail and improve, then try some more. It won’t be easy. Great journeys never seem to be.

Each time we show up is another vote cast for who we want to be.

I think something else happens when we show up consistently. We gradually conquer our fear, our pride, and our weakness. “I can’t” becomes “I can, and here’s how I know.” The record we build for ourselves fundamentally changes who we are. It gives us the strength to overcome in the most important battles we fight, inside our mind.

Start small. Tie your practice to something you already do consistently. Keep track of how you show up. The progress will come in much bigger ways that you anticipate.