Can Tiny Habits Help Me Achieve My Goals?

I’ve done a lot of thinking today about achieving things and the potential power of tiny habits. Can they help me with a personality quirk that has seen so many of my goals incomplete?

tiny habits for successful living

I am great at starting projects. I love new ideas, new plans, and new goals. There’s nothing more satisfying than sitting down and planning out how it’s all going to be. And my enthusiasm at the beginning is always enormous. I’m not just going to learn a language, take photos, or get fit, I’m going to become fluent in ten languages, become a famous photographer, appear in the next Olympics!

Inevitably, as time passes, motivation dips. The main reason for this, as far as I can ascertain, is that life gets in the way. If I could lock myself in a room 24/7 and work on a single goal it’d be great, but I can’t. There is parenting to be done, I have to look after the house, deal with insurance and a bajillion other life admin tasks. There is work to worry about. I have other projects (too many), that I haven’t yet finished…

And slowly, the motivation drops off and my project languishes, and I get distracted. Often by a shiny new project.

And letting go of these projects is very hard for me. I like to finish things – I like to get things done. So I will pick up a project sometimes ten years later and then work on it some more before life gets in the way or something else exciting comes along.

The result of this is fairly obvious.

Lots of projects.

Lots and lots of projects.

And I think it is exactly this that has driven my love of minimalism. My brain LONGS to be free of the mental burden of all things that I have set myself to do.

Reducing physical clutter definitely helps with this, but as time has gone on I’ve noticed that digital clutter is  a problem for me also.

As you can imagine, this is not a constructive or particularly efficient way to live a life. We only have a finite amount of time on this earth and I really don’t want to die with a load of stuff half-finished.

It’s important, regarding any change I may make, that I accommodate my personality here. I am not the kind of person who is going to drop projects that I’ve had running in the background for years (like the family photobooks or the half finished novels (yep, plural). I need to get to the end of these. But I have got to change my way of working.

Consistency

Consistency is the key. I’ve known it for a while, but it’s becoming ever more apparent as I get older. I watch how others live their lives and I can see that consistency trumps talent and luck every time. Consistency is what gets results.

And yet, consistency is where I fall down, over and over again.

I work in big chunks, with big breaks in between (sometimes breaks of several years). In the breaks, I end up sliding back downwards. Sometimes, if it seems that I’ve gone too far downhill (business ideas, other mad plans), I will give up completely and write that project off. I don’t like doing this because it makes me feel like I have failed. I do understand the value of failure but it’s still not fun.

My business ideas, my writing, my freelance work, none of it seems to gain the momentum it should do. It’s almost as though as soon as it starts to move forward and look really promising, I step away and let it drop back to zero. Every time I write and get something published, I don’t write for ages. If I run a big race, I stop training completely. I won a dance competition and never danced again (I was 23).

I’m don’t think it’s subconscious self-sabotage, but I can’t be sure of that.

What I do know is that if I had been consistent with any/all of those things, I would certainly be a lot more successful now in any of those areas than I currently am.

The Cure

So what is the solution to a distracted mind? I think partly the problem is that I am genuinely interested in loads of different things. My brain that loves to suck up information and learn new stuff. I reach a basic level of competence in something pretty quickly, and I love it, but then as soon as it comes to moving into mastery of that subject, I get bored. Something else catches my attention.

I can’t remove this desire for learning, and I will always be the kind of person that stands in a bookshop and feels so giddy that she doesn’t know where to start.

But this trait is, to be honest, destroying my ability to really achieve anything remarkable.

Tiny Habits?

I first read about habit-stacking and tiny habits several years back, and of course Leo from Zen Habits attributes habits to all of the amazing life changes he has been able to implement. I am aware of the theory, but it’s only really now sinking in that this might be the way to change everything for the better.

A quick personal illustration of the power of habits:

The other morning I got a cup out of the cupboard to make a cup of tea. I boiled the kettle and then I went to the fridge and got out a small carton of nut milk I had bought. Nut milk isn’t very nice in tea, but I wanted to experiment and see if I could get used to drinking it that way. I put the little nut milk carton next to the mug, filled the mug with boiling water, swished the teabag around, and then, while I was talking to the kids… I went to the fridge, got the cows milk out, poured a bit in my mug, and put it back in the fridge.

Even though the nut milk had been right next to the mug, I’d still gone to the fridge and got the cows milk out and poured it into my tea. Because that’s how I’ve made tea for almost 30 years.

That is the power of habit.

The cows milk was further away, and required more energy to retrieve. But I did it without even thinking about it.

Imagine if I could do that for positive habits like writing and exercising and eating great food?

Getting Started With Tiny Habits

I’m wary of making some big commitment and then failing to follow up. However, I think that habits might be the key.

What if I could set in place a series of mini habits over time that transformed my morning from reactionary chaos in getting the kids to school into a calm, organised start to every day? (Well, let’s be realistic, I can’t control the tantrums and bickering, but I can at least be better prepared than I am – some mornings I don’t even shower or brush my hair before leaving the house with the three of them in tow.)

What if I could build a daily habit of working on things that I never seem to have time for? (Primarily exercise and writing spring to mind.)

Could I restructure my life by repeating small things every day until they become autopilot actions?

I have tried this before, but with hindsight I think my goals were too big. It’s the habit that matters, not the actual output. My first daily goal was writing 250 words. On some days it took forever to dredge those out of my brain and so eventually I stopped. I think a much, much smaller goal (say, 50 words), would have been better.

There is always the option to do more than the goal you set yourself, but that goal is the bottom line. It’s the worst you’re going to achieve in anything you set out to do. And writing 50 words a day is, over the last year,  18,250 words more than I have actually written.

I’m setting up a coach.me account. I used this for writing before, but this time I’m going SMALL.

Super small.

And I am going to PROMISE an update in a months time.

This Week’s Goal + Training Log #10 and #11

I’ve fallen behind on my updates. Not that there is much to update, what with school holidays, lack of sleep and a death in the family!

Goal

Photo books 2010-2017

I have done nothing on this goal for the last two weeks. Not a jot.

I don’t get any time at the computer when all three children are home.

Progress

2010-11: Arrived
2012: Done. Awaiting ordering.
2013: To be started

Training

A good week followed by a bad week:

Mon – Rest
Tues – 5km 30:28
Wed – Rest
Thu – Rest
Fri – Rest
Sat – Parkrun PB. Aced it in 29:50 and FINALLY achieved my sub-30 minute 5k, HURRAH!
Sun – 14km run in 1:35. Can’t quite believe I ran that far!

Mon – Rest
Tues – Rest
Wed – Rest
Thu – Rest
Fri – Rest
Sat – Rest
Sun – Rest

I have put every day in as a rest day for the latest week, but the irony is that I haven’t really had any rest. I’m feeling really crap about running and everything in general at the moment. My joint pain has flared up really badly too, with a lack of sleep (same old story), and too much wine. Hoping to break out of this next week and get back to it. I can’t give up now – I’ve been running for months.

This Week’s Goal + Training Log #9

family photo book page layout

Goal

Photo books 2010-2017

I did nothing this week. The husband was on holiday from work so it was a family-focused week with trips out and treats. Plus, I had a total hard drive failure, so it took me three days to reinstall everything and then download my 640GB back-up to get things back to normal (I really need to do a digital declutter). At least it didn’t happen in the middle of a work project.

My 2010 and 2011 books arrived in the post and I love them!

Photo of them so far, below. I’ll do some better ones once I’ve got them all together.

Time spent on goal: 0 hours 0 minutes

Progress

2010-11: Arrived
2012: Done. Awaiting ordering.
2013: To be started

Training

The week started well with baby F finally over her vomit bug and starting to sleep a little better. We even had a single night of no waking, which was pretty cool. I did a great run+HIIT session on Monday.

But it all went downhill from there. Baby F came down with a viral infection that got steadily worse as the week progressed. Two nights of lots of crying with a really blocked nose were followed by five nights of fever, crying and general misery (for both of us). It’s now Monday and she’s still feverish and now croup-y on top of everything else. Two docs have checked her – she just needs to fight off the virus.

I’d planned to run five times, but managed three. And I am so worn out. I have been stuck at 30min 5kms for six weeks and I don’t think I’m going to level up until the sleep thing is under control as I’m just running on empty (literally).

Nevermind – as long as I keep doing something I’m doing good.

Mon – 30 min easy run, 8 min HIIT
Tues – Rest
Wed – 3.9km, 25:05
Thu – Rest
Fri – 5km, 30:55
Sat – Rest
Sun – Rest

This Week’s Goal + Training Log #8

Yearly family photo book

Goal

Photo books 2010-2017

I’ve had a bit of extra time this week as the boys have been at a tennis camp in the mornings. Totally random I know. There is a tennis club about two minutes from the house and they do games and other stuff as well as tennis. The boys have loved it – especially as they get to take money for the tuck shop (I’m trying not to think about how much chocolate they ate). Baby F did her normal 2.5 days at nursery, so I got a few hours here and there to myself.

Time spent on goal: 12 hours 10 minutes

Progress

2010: Ordered!
2011: Ordered!
2012: Done. Awaiting ordering.
2013: To be started

Reflection

This week I thought up every excuse under the sun to stop this project and start something else. I thought a break would be good, it was too much to complete in one go, it was taking too long, and a million other things.

I’ve resisted signing up to a free trial at Lynda.com, and the temptation to buy several books on Amazon, on varying topics.

I’m not even halfway through and it seems like I’ll be doing this forever. 

Going to keep on plodding. Little by little I’ll get there.

Training

The week started really badly. I was sleep deprived and I felt I was recovering really slowly from the 12km I did last Sunday. I didn’t exercise for the first three days of the week, and felt no better for it. 

On Thursday I dragged myself out for a short run, just to keep the momentum going, and it all got so much better from there. On Friday I went again and clocked my fastest kilometer yet at 5:48. Then on Saturday I tackled a hilly parkrun instead of the usual flat one and loved it.

It really helped that baby F has started to sleep a little better now she’s fully recovered from the sick bug, and that the insomnia monster has abated.

Hoping to level up next week and start adding more sessions to the week. I’ll be aiming for five.

Mon – Rest
Tues – Rest
Wed – Rest
Thu – 3.8km
Fri – 3.88km
Sat – 5km parkrun (a hilly one), 33:38
Sun – Rest

This Week’s Goal + Training Log #7

Photo book cover 2010

Goal

Photo books 2010-2017

I had to overcome some reluctance to carry on with my current goal this week. I forced myself to sit down and do an hour’s dedicated work to get me through a boring sorting job in order to start the year 2010. Once I had all the photos ready to go my enthusiasm returned. In total I spent 7 hours 23 minutes on my current goal.

Progress

2010: Arranged up to December
2011: Done, awaiting printing
2012: To be started

Emotions

It’s invoked some interesting emotions going through old photographs. There is something about creating a photo book that allows you to lay the year to rest. I became a mother in November 2009, and 2010 felt like a very long year. I had a traumatic birth and very little support either physically or emotionally after my son was born. Becoming a parent opened up a whole new perspective on my own childhood, which I found emotionally difficult to deal with.

I began the year with a 7 week old baby, a body I barely recognised, dreadful insomnia in the aftermath of my enormous post-partum haemorrhage (2.8 litres), and a whole torrent of emotions I’d never experienced before. I simultaneously found motherhood almost impossibly challenging and also the source of the greatest love I’d ever felt. This tiny baby I’d brought forth into the world instantly became the absolute centre of my universe, and I was terrified of anything happening to him.

Also, I put pressure on myself to carry on exactly as I had before. I wish so much I’d had a wise person to advise me that I needed to rest, and to stay at home with my baby. I wish someone had told me I needed to stop worrying about everyone else’s opinion and not feel obligated to join all the mother and baby activities and groups that everyone was always talking about.

However, as the year progressed, I can remember those feelings changing. I remember getting back to feeling a little more like myself, and a deep contentment at being a mother.

As soon as 2010 is finished I’ll be starting 2012. That was the start of a three year journey to have my daughter, involving many miscarriages. I’m sure that will be emotional, but there is still much to celebrate in that time with my two boys growing up through baby and toddlerhood to school age.

Training

It’s been a bit of a bare week. Life gets in the way, often, of our plans to exercise and be healthier, and this week was a good example. Baby F’s bout of vomiting and diarrhoea coincided with the start of the school holidays, so I only managed a 5k race on Wednesday evening. At the weekend however, I ran my planned long run – a 12km jog around Southsea seafront.

My joint pain has been bad. This is mainly down to interrupted sleep, as it plays havoc with my arthritis.

Now I’m three months into regular running, I’d like to start exercising 4-5 days a week, perhaps with shorter runs and more hill/sprints. I’m still pretty sore from Sunday, so I’ll hold off on that for now!

Mon – Rest
Tues – Rest
Wed – 5km race 30:07 (mis-recorded, I think, as 30:17)
Thu – Rest
Fri – Rest
Sat – Rest
Sun – 12km long run

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