Wellness, Productivity, Balance for Graduate Students and Beyond

The Power of Conscious Habit Resets

I am a goal addict, as I've mentioned before. I love the fresh new energy of setting a goal, the structure of maintaining it, the rewards of hitting it - I love it all. But I also set myself up for the inevitable crash when I don't hit a goal, when I miss a milestone, when I fall off the wagon, and then have to/want to start the cycle all over again. So after years of guilt about failed resolutions, missed Goodreads "Read 50 books in a year!" challenge, and yoga challenges you can't quite finish, I've learned some things about how to consciously choose times to work on my habits, and how to do so in a way that's supportive rather than shameful. 

And just as I was sitting down to write this blog post, Dr. Katie Linder released a podcast on her amazing You Got This Podcast about a self-care challenge she'll be doing for the month of December. I refer you most wholeheartedly to all her offerings, but this podcast in particular has some great things to say about planning ahead when doing a challenge (or fitting in something new during a busy time more generally), and follow her hashtag #YGT30days if you're looking for inspiration on a challenge of your own! 

Guidelines for Conscious Habit Resets

  • Question why you're feeling called to make a change. I have learned that when I am starting to feel restless, stuck, or otherwise low, I like to shake things up with a new habit or a conscious change to my habits. So, when my dissertation hit a slump (as it did several times!!) you could often find me recommitting to my yoga by trying to go to a class a day for 30 days, or trying to read 5 new fiction books in a month, or starting a new journaling habit. They didn't all stick, but it helped me freshen up my day and my routines even while some aspects felt stale. But I was also equally likely to be kicking off some new plan to revolutionize everything after taking a hit to my self esteem. Whether it was negative comments about my writing, or a few weeks of feeling not my best physically, if I was feeling down I almost always turned to some form of habit revamp. In many ways, this was a holdover from my eating disorder (bad behavior can be undone by excessive good behavior until bad behavior takes back over again) and led to unhealthy thought patterns for sure. So, make sure that if you're taking a challenge on, you're clear about why you're doing it. There are lots of good reasons to try and challenge yourself to better habits, but there are lots of poor reasons too. 
  • Pick something manageable. Perhaps this goes without saying, but you're more likely to succeed with a habit revamp or challenge if it's more of a 50% change rather than a 100% direction shift. Cutting out one coffee a day can be much easier than cutting out all caffeine cold turkey. Committing to three yoga classes a week, including home practice with YouTube videos, can be more realistic than aiming to take 30 guided yoga classes in a studio in a month. Maybe your overall goal is to read 50 new books in a year - challenging yourself to read 15 minutes a day will help you establish the habit without setting an extremely difficult bar for yourself to clear. You can always work up to a more intense level, but starting small and succeeding is ultimately much more rewarding than missing an unreasonable goal. 
  • Find the accountability system that works for you. I am a relatively private person when it comes to my goals and challenges - you couldn't pay me enough money to get me to post a before and after picture of my body on Instagram. But I do benefit with some form of accountability. I like to know that I am not alone, so I text my Dad when I go for a run (a long standing goal of mine is to run a 5k!) and check in with friends regularly when I'm trying to restart a yoga habit. But I've found the most effective accountability strategy is to write in my bullet journal. I love being able to see the boxes checked off after I complete something, and although I suppose I could fudge, I never do. Unlike a nagging friend, or the very deafening silence of dropping out of an Instagram challenge, the blank lines of a missed day or two are a gentle reminder to get back to it. 
  • Try, try again. I once complained to a yoga teacher that I hated my busy Thursday schedule - it was so hard to make classes, and it often wrecked my "six days of yoga a week" goal. She very smartly said to me, "well, setting a goal of six and reaching four or five classes is still four or five classes you wouldn't have gone to otherwise." That knocked me out, because yes, even if we don't hit the exact goal or target, any forward motion is still forward motion. So set yourself the goal of entering one academic paper a day into your reading matrix, and even if you only get to it four days out of five, you still put in four more papers. Try it again next week. Keep trying, It all gets you closer, which is the whole point of the challenge anyway. 
  • Habits take time, and need boosters. I've heard that habits can take three weeks, or one month, to really solidify in your brain, and I believe it. But I also believe they can lose their power over time. So don't expect change overnight, and don't expect that once you've reached a stable place that it will stay the same forever. This where the challenge can be really powerful - the fresh burst of energy will help you through until the habit is solidified, and reinvigorate a habit that is losing its power. 

As for me, I'm going to do a morning routine challenge. I love being up early, and have successfully had a really productive morning routine off and on for years, but lately I've been sliding into sleeping later and later, which throws my whole day off. So, it's time to try again, and enjoy the power to change my routines, habits, and life in small and big ways, whenever I'd like.