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21 Apr

Measure and it will help you establish a new habit


Datum: 2010-04-21 18:02

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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