New habits are hard to make

Mon­ica Shep­pard be­gins writ­ing a weekly col­umn.


“Why don’t you write a weekly col­umn?” he asked. “Of course!” I said, “Just tell me when you need them.” Sure, I thought, I can eas­ily add writ­ing 800 words a week to my list of things to do.

Now it’s weeks later and … zero words. WHAT was I think­ing? Add it to the “should have al­ready done it” list. It’s a pretty ex­ten­sive list. I mean, how long have I known that I should get up early ev­ery morn­ing and work out or do yoga or med­i­tate or work on that new busi­ness plan or make a fresh smoothie or teach my­self to cro­chet or paint my rocks for “Rome Rocks!” or get tonight’s din­ner in the crock pot or re­visit the man­dolin or solve the world’s prob­lems be­fore I start my day? I mean, look at how well I’m do­ing at all of those! (Note: One habit I have de­vel­oped quite well is sar­casm.)

All sar­casm aside, is it just me, or is the list of things that we “should” be do­ing con­sis­tently longer that what we ac­tu­ally phys­i­cally can? I turned 50 in Jan­uary; my daugh­ter is about to grad­u­ate high school and head off to Ge­or­gia Tech in the fall, and I re­cently ended a longterm re­la­tion­ship. Call it a midlife cri­sis, but I have a lim­it­less sky of time and po­ten­tial ahead of me here in Rome, and have lots and lots of ideas on how to fill it pro­duc­tively. Now, if I can just cre­ate the habits. A quick Google search on “cre­at­ing new habits” re­veals that we should be able to do it in three, five, seven, eight or 18 easy steps. Be­ing the smart and ef­fi­cient woman that I am, I go for the three-step­per. At the end of the link, a guy named James Clear is telling me that, “Ev­ery habit you have — good or bad — fol­lows the same three-step pat­tern.” The steps in­clude:

Re­minder (the trig­ger that ini­ti­ates the be­hav­ior)

Rou­tine (the be­hav­ior it­self; the ac­tion you take)

Re­ward (the ben­e­fit you gain from do­ing the be­hav­ior)

Mr. Clear points out that he is not the only per­son to pro­mote this con­cept. It is the same the­ory that Charles Duhigg puts forth in his best-sell­ing book, “The Power of Habit.” The only dif­fer­ence is that Duhigg refers to the “re­minder” as a “cue” but Mr. Clear likes al­lit­er­a­tion, and so do I.

So, I set my alarm this morn­ing as my re­minder that I wanted to get up early to start writ­ing. De­spite a rest­less night and fit­ful sleep, I re­sisted the snooze op­tion and got to it. Wait a sec­ond, come to think of it, maybe this should be a four-step list: Re­minder, Re­sist, Rou­tine, Re­ward. How many times have I set the re­minder, but then given in to temp­ta­tion (i.e. the snooze op­tion)? Yeah, re­sist def­i­nitely needs to be added.

So, af­ter I re­sisted the urge to go back to sleep, I snapped to it. Af­ter all, I’m re­ally ex­cited about this new rou­tine I’m go­ing to de­velop! I en­joy writ­ing and have a nice long list of things I want to write about. I opened my lap­top and started writ­ing, but then a text mes­sage came in. And then the dog wanted up on the bed. And then I re­mem­bered I needed to re­spond to a note about the se­nior pic­nic meet­ing this af­ter­noon. Wait, what was I do­ing?

Isn’t that the way life goes th­ese days? We have so many dis­trac­tions it is hard to stay on one thing for very long. This re­ally should be a five-step list: Re­minder, Re­sist, Rou­tine, Re-fo­cus, Re­ward.

So, where was I? Oh yeah, prac­tic­ing the rou­tine, and I’ve made it to 632 words!

I can do this. I might even write a sec­ond col­umn this morn­ing, now that I am on a roll. Gosh, maybe I could write a col­umn a day. No, no, no, Mon­ica, just fo­cus on fin­ish­ing this one.

There will de­cid­edly be re­ward in hav­ing com­pleted my first piece. I have been gen­er­at­ing that list of ideas for a while. Now if I can just re­peat the process each week. You know, this re­ally should be a six-step list: Re­minder, Re­sist, Rou­tine, Re-fo­cus, Re­ward, Re­peat.

Thanks for read­ing along through my painstak­ing process of de­vel­op­ing this new habit. Hope­fully my six-step pro­gram will be help­ful to you, as well. And, hope­fully you will con­tinue to read over the com­ing weeks. I am ex­cited to be­gin this dia­logue with you, dear reader. And if you’re not so ex­cited, well, I can al­ways take up cro­chet.

Mon­ica Shep­pard is a free­lance graphic de­signer, bee­keeper, mother and com­mu­nity sup­porter liv­ing in Rome. She has taken up the gaunt­let of writ­ing a weekly col­umn thrown down by Man­ag­ing Ed­i­tor Mike Colombo. She will be ap­pear­ing each Thurs­day start­ing next week — un­less she takes up cro­chet.

Jim Pow­ell of Young Har­ris

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