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21 Apr

Measure and it will help you establish a new habit


Date: 2010-04-21 18:02 Comments: 0 st

Have you, just like me, from time to time attempted to establish a new habit, and have had some trouble with succeeding? Maybe you attempted trying a new approach to improve your personal structure.

You have used the new approach for a while, but run out of steam and direction and started to run in the same old tracks again. Sometimes we can establish a new habit from one day to another; sometimes it’s more difficult than that.

If you have the slightest winning instinct within you, you’ll succeed a lot easier with embracing your new habit if you make sure you measure your progress.

First, make the goal clear

Imagine how you will work when the habit is fully established, when it has become the most natural way to work for you, despite the habit being fairly new. If you want to, quantify the target and make the point when you have accomplished the goal very obvious and clear. Could you, for example, express the achievement of your goal in terms of that you will have acted according to your new habit a certain number of times?

When a fellow colleague and musician of mine had to learn a difficult passage in a piece of music, he put twenty tiny marbles in his right pocket. Every time he managed to play the passage perfectly, he moved one marble from his right pocket to his left pocket. If he made a mistake, he would move back all the marbles from the left pocket to the right again. When he had all twenty marbles in his left pocket(and thus had played it perfectly twenty times in a row), he felt he could play the passage well enough.

Choose a metaphor


Decide upon what metaphor you want to use to measure your progress. Here are some ideas:

  • 0-100% - At 0% the new habit really feels like a new habit and you repeatedly have to put up a fight to continue on your new path. At 100% it’s still certainly a new habit, but it now seems like the obvious and natural way to do it, and you do what you do as if you had never done it in another way. So, where are you on the scale from 1-100 right now?
  • A Watch - Where are the hands of the clock positioned when it comes to your new habit? Is it 5 o’clock or have you reached 11 already.
  • Thermometer - Are you below zero degrees, where it’s cold and tiring, or have you reached a beautiful summer evening temperature where you can lay your head back and enjoy how simple everything is.
  • Tachometer - Are you idle or are you on “full throttle” rushing forward with ease through the landscape?
  • The months of the year - Is it early March or have you succeeded so well with your work flow that you want that you are closer to Christmas.
  • Seven days in a week - What day are you on if Sunday represents the day you can relax and feel rest assured in your new habit?
  • Time-line - How many days in a row can you maintain this new habit? How many days in a row do you manage on your next try?

Make the progress visible

The clearer you visualize how you are progressing in changing your behavior, the more you will be spurred to refine it further. Make the progress visible by for example:

  • Draw ... a curve in a chart or a time-line.
  • Check off ... the completed steps in the metaphor you’ve chosen.
  • Post it ... on the wall, the phases in your metaphor that you’ve put behind you.
  • Tear off and toss ... the piece of paper that represents the month, the speed, the hour you’ve just passed. By throwing it away, you clearly indicate to yourself that you’re never going back to where you came from.

Measure frequently

If this is like a competition to you, you will be motivated if the tempo is high. Measure often, preferably every day. Notice how you step by step bring yourself forward towards your new ways of working.

If you slip back into the same old tracks (and step a few weekdays or percentage points back), think about how you can make the new approach, the new way of working, into the one that requires the least effort.

Can you add some kind of note or thing under every date in your tickler file so you easily can be reminded of how you’ve decided to start doing whatever it is? Can you make it easy to find the new document you want to work with and hard to find the old documents you used before (without erasing them)?

How do you do it?

What’s your most successful way of establishing a new habit?

Please leave a comment below.

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