Starting Good Habits · 10 July 2021

Good habits are about as difficult to start as bad habits are to break.

If you have never had to break a bad habit, you must be perfect. Or a liar. Or both. Okay, you cannot be both. (Sorry the phrase “Or both,” just seems to follow any “one or the other” statement.) At any rate. Since we all have bad habits or at least have had a habit that we wanted to break, we know that the process is not something that is easy to do. It takes determination. It takes will power. (Actually, it usually takes won’t power.) And it takes determination. Yes, you need lots of determination.

The thing is that good habits are just as difficult to start as bad habits are to break. Of course, if you have a good habit that can replace a bad habit, you can kill two birds with one stone. Not that I would have you kill any birds, but that is a completely different story. But think about it. If you could take a bad habit and replace it with a good habit, you would stop doing the thing you do not want to do and start doing something you do want to do. It would be a win-win situation. Two birds with one stone. Perfect. (It would be a trifecta, but with only two things.)

There are times though when we just want to start something new. We want a new habit. That is where the story really starts.

If you are in the habit of starting or stopping habits, you have probably heard the saying that 21 days makes a habit. That is probably true. But where does 21 days start? Day one. You need to start somewhere, and day one is it. And believe it or not, day one tends to be the sticking point for anybody trying to start or stop a habit.

“I want to draw every day, but I just can’t seem to start.” Interpretation: “Day one is always scheduled for tomorrow, and tomorrow never comes.”

“I want to play the piano every day, but I just can’t find the time.” Interpretation: “I don’t have a piano.” Oops. Wrong interpretation. “My kids think I’m too loud.” Oops. Wrong interpretation again. “Day one is always scheduled for tomorrow, and tomorrow never comes.”

“I want to run a mile every day, but I just can’t seem to take the first step.” Interpretation: “It’s too cold and wet outside and I don’t really want to run that badly and I might catch a cold and I am already in shape because round is a shape.” Oops. “Day one is always scheduled for tomorrow, and tomorrow never comes.”

I am not making fun of anybody but myself for those are my excuses for the things I want to do. So I know that starting a habit is difficult. I know that the first day does not seem to come. So I found a way to trick myself. It happened by accident, but it seems to have worked so far.

The secret? Quit trying to start and just start. In fact, whatever the habit you are trying to start, start it in secret. Do not tell yourself that you are trying to start a habit. Just start playing the piano even though the kids think you are too loud. Just start drawing even though you do not have hours to sit and draw. Just start running even though it is cold outside. Actually, maybe start running in the spring when it is nice. But quit telling yourself you are going to start and actually start.

I know. It does not actually sound like much of a secret. But here is the kicker. After you have started doing whatever you want to start doing. After you have been doing it a few days. After you have stopped making excuses about not doing whatever it is you want to do. Then tell yourself that you want to start the habit. You read that right. Do not tell yourself that you are starting a new habit until you have actually started the habit. After the third or fourth or fifth or twentieth day, you can tell yourself that you are starting a new habit. The funny thing is that you will have already started the new habit. You will be on your way. You will be beyond the dreaded day one.

I know. It sounds crazy. But if it works for me, it could work for you too. When you do not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing, you can do great things. When you do not tell yourself that you are actually going to start a good habit, you can actually start that good habit.

Okay. There is one other secret. At least if you are trying to draw or practice a musical instrument or do anything else that you need hours and hours to master. (Which, by the way, is everything.) Just practice for five minute. Five minutes. Now, just five minutes a day might not seem like a lot, but it is infinitely longer than zero. I know. Math. But it is true. Just five minutes a day doing something you want to do anyway but can never find the time to do will not make you feel guilty that you are taking time away from something else that is important. The other thing is that you do not need to gear yourself up for five minutes a day. You just do it. And who knows. Five minutes could turn into much longer.

Okay. One other secret (which makes two secrets added to the first secret, which makes three secrets, if you are counting). The other secret is that you will not become a master with just five minutes a day, but nobody cares. Nobody cares that you are not a master at whatever you are trying to start a habit of doing. Nobody cares that you took up playing piano or drawing or knitting or whatever else your new habit might be. And nobody cares that you will not become a master at it because you are only doing it five minutes a day. So quit worrying about becoming a master. Who knows if you will ever become a master regardless of how many hours you put into something.

Well. That is about it. I hope I did not offend too many people by telling them to turn off the TV and start doing something they want to do. Wait. I never said that. Ah well.

There is no secret to starting or stopping a habit except to just start. And remember. Starting good habits is just as hard as stopping bad habits. But do it anyway.

© 2021 Michael T. Miyoshi

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