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.

Coach.me – Writing 20,000 Words In 30 Days

Just over a month ago, I decided that if I didn’t make some sort of regular commitment to writing, I was never, EVER going to see any of the stories in my head make it down onto paper. Although I completed a novel last year, just before I gave birth to my daughter, since then I have hardly written a thing. I’ve thought a lot about writing, but it just hasn’t happened.

I tend to think that if I don’t have a block of several quiet hours to myself, or a day where I know I’m going to be undisturbed, then I really can’t sit down and write anything of any quality. The trouble is, how often does anyone get a day where they know they can sit and write and not be disturbed? And even when that day comes… do you ever just sit down and write??

I knew I needed a different approach. I wanted to make writing more of a ‘normal’ part of my day. After all, success is a daily habit, right?

A long time ago I had a play with an app called Lift, which encourages you to check in each day when you do something you want to do, e.g. drink 5 glasses of water. Since then it has evolved into something called Coach.me, and not only does it record all your daily check-ins for thousands of goals (or any other goal you care to think up), but it also has real, actual, human coaches that you can sign up with to make sure you’re doing your bit.

It costs $14.99 a week to hire a coach, and given our dreadful exchange rate at the moment, that is a fair amount of money each month if you’re not earning. But here’s the thing: a real life coach would cost you much more than that. And even a real life coach might get a little fed up if you wanted to talk to them EVERY SINGLE DAY.

So I thought, what the hell, accountability is the ONE thing that makes a huge difference for people who are trying to achieve goals, I’ll give it a go.

I signed up with a coach called Jen Anderson. There were several writing coaches, but I really liked the writing on her blog – she doesn’t subscribe to the pervasive style of brimming-with-regret fiction that I see so much of these days, and can’t bear to read. Hurrah!

We got going by setting a goal, and thinking about what I wanted to achieve. I already had a project in mind, which I’d made a very brief start on, so we settled on 15 minutes of writing a day, and off we went.

Now. I wasn’t sure how useful 15 minutes of writing would actually be, but I knew that it would do one thing – it would help build a habit. Regardless of how long I wrote for, it was the actual need to sit down and do it that I wanted to generate. Like brushing your teeth, or eating breakfast.

Well, to get straight to the point, I’m now 39 days in and it has gone brilliantly. Not only have I written every day except the four days I had a horrendous stomach bug (the perils of having school-age children), but I also managed 20,000 words in the first 30 days.

Let me just say that again: 20,000 words in 30 days.

And not once did I take a day out to just sit and write, or spend an afternoon cleverly crafting plot lines, or even ignore my family for three solid hours while I beavered away on the computer  hidden in an upstairs room.

Instead I snatched 15 minutes when I could, usually when my daughter napped, but during school holidays it tends to be the first 15 minutes after they are all in bed.

As anyone who has ever finished a book of any length can tell you, getting that first draft down and complete is the hardest part. Editing is positively sublime in comparison. I’m estimating the project I’m working on at the moment will be about 70,000 words, so if I carry on at the same sort of rate, my first draft will be finished by about the end of January and then the fun can really begin!

750 Words

I’ve started using the 750words.com website to help me stick to a regular writing schedule. I’m 9,000 words down on the novel that I’ve wanted to write since the beginning of this year. I’ve managed a four day streak so far. I’ve been writing in the evening, but I’ve found that I get agitated as the day goes on that I haven’t ‘done my words’ (I’ve always been a morning person), so I might experiment with getting up and writing them at around 6am, before everyone else is awake.

Writing Again

I’m writing again!

I’d been thinking about it seriously for a few weeks.

Since last year, when I was churning out quite a lot of flash fiction, I’ve had a lull – maybe it was a confidence thing. I had a couple of pieces published towards the end of 2014 – and it was the first time I’d ever shown anyone my work. It was a little scary. What if I couldn’t ever write anything good again?

So I became distracted by other projects, and I also got pregnant (!). However, since then, I’ve had a major clearing out of projects and to-dos. It was primarily to make sure I wouldn’t be overwhelmed with stuff once this new baby arrives (I’m due at the end of November), but as is often the case with a good declutter, once I’d made space in my life, I found there was one thing I kept thinking about filling it with again. The one thing I always come back to.

Writing.

So that novel I intended to write at the beginning of the year, and my resolution to write 50,000 words of it, might just be on the cards after all.

Social Media, Blogging and The Best Use of it All

For a long time I’ve scrutinised my use of the internet, wondering if it really is enhancing my life, or just taking up time I could spend doing other things. At the moment I’m stuck in a kind of limbo over how to manage it all.

We’ve cleared out so much stuff over the last few weeks – it’s moved our decluttering onto a new level to be honest. And inevitably, with the increased sense of space and clarity around us, I notice more the things that feel cluttered and unmanaged.

My internet time is one of those things. I use lots of sites, but only a little bit, if that makes sense. I have a handful of friends on Facebook (less than 40 I think). I follow some folks on Instagram (mainly raw food and yoga types). I use twitter infrequently, but more ‘professionally’ and it tends to be full of software related people. I’m on LinkedIn. I blog here, plus I have a currently unused blog on minimalism. I’ve wanted to create a writing blog for ages (and do more writing). I have a professional blog, which I’ve just announced a sabbatical on (the weekly newsletter has now ended as I’m home with the boys for the summer, and the baby is due November, so I have little interest in maintaining it right now).

It’s all a bit piecemeal and bitty.

I’ve toyed for a long time with creating a single, personal blog, that I can just use for everything, and link all the other accounts to. But then…

Do I really want my in-laws reading the same things as my work colleagues and as my friends?? Would people even be interested?

No – there are different audiences for different things.

But then I think – but I’m me, regardless of that. Surely I shouldn’t have to only show certain parts of my personality to certain people. That almost feels deceptive.

So then I wonder, perhaps all this social and linking stuff is overrated. Maybe I should focus on real-life relationships and stop putting myself out there. I mean, why do I do this at all? What do I get from it?

And then I think about the incredible support I’ve received online, and the connections I’ve made with like-minded people that I would never have met otherwise. And the journeys that I’ve been able to follow and even become emotionally invested in, and it becomes clear that connections are a good thing. That they can help you find people in the world who will support your goals, and even agree with them, or even join you, when your local family and friends might not understand why you would even want to do them in the first place.

But how to manage it all??

It’s causing me discomfort. I don’t like the way it’s all spread across loads of different platforms, and I seem to have to segregate aspects of my life for different audiences. I hate all the apps on my phone! I deleted loads of them a few weeks back, but I still have far too many.

In part, I think it’s down to the fact that, as with all of us, there are many different aspects to my personality – I love programming, software, computers, gaming, but I also love minimalism and get excited about organising. I’m into health and nutrition. I have a family and adore my kids. I love to write, and have had work published and would love to spend more time on that. I love to travel (even though we haven’t for years).

Some people seem to focus on one thing, and they become famous for it. Whether it’s raw food, yoga, software, or minimalism, that is their “niche”. I find it impossible to commit for one thing for any length of time!

Sigh.

And Facebook just feels so soul-less at the moment. Most of what I see in my feed are other people’s likes, and shares, which is fine, but I miss the days of knowing what people where thinking about, talking about and eating for dinner. Facebook used to be about the person, but now it’s more like a news-stream. That’s fine, things change, but I miss that part of it. I’ve also noticed that Facebook is becoming more like twitter – I had a look at my friends’ profiles last night and I was astounded at how many people some of them were connected to. When I left Facebook a couple of years back, most people had around 100 connections. Now a lot of the people I know are topping 400+ people. Perhaps the problem is I am using Facebook in the wrong way? That it is much less personal now and I’m ignoring friend requests and connections because I’m still stuck in the “you have to be a proper friend” line of thought. After all, I follow a few hundred people on twitter, so why should Facebook be different?

I’m rambling now, and getting off point.

The point is: I want a clean, simple, solution to being online.

I don’t want to have to check different websites, and I don’t want to feel that I’m scattered all over the place. I want to be genuinely me, to everyone, so that I can be confident that if they are still interested in me, it’s because they ARE interested in me.

But also, I don’t want to be a jack-of-all-trades, with no focus.

I just don’t know how to bring all the threads together.

Maybe part of the problem here is that I am still not certain what I want to be doing with my life.

Since I left paid work, I’ve wanted to earn money – somehow – but haven’t been able to pin down anything sustainable that is flexible enough to suit me. I’m not even sure what field I want to be in. Do I still want to program? Write software? Or do I want to focus on writing, finally? Do I want to be freelance, or just turn up and get paid by someone else?

I don’t even really know the answers to these questions, and perhaps that is part of the problem. Part of me keeps thinking I should be earning money online somehow or other, but then I know how transient and difficult that can be.

I really just don’t know what to do at the moment. I love to write, to connect with others and to blog, but I need a more efficient way of doing all of it. I want to be, more than I ever have, authentically me to everyone I know, but I’m not sure how to go about it and I’m frightened that some people will think I’m weird/crazy/boring/stupid/ or worst of all, not worth bothering with at all (sob!).

I have a domain, faye.tv, that I’ve owned for years and years. There’s nothing on it, but I love it, and it’s my little corner of the internet. I kind of want it to be my central place, where everyone knows they can find me. But I’m also scared of what people will think of me. And to a certain extent, what the hell would I write about that anyone would want to read anyway?? I do feel that I suffer from a lack of confidence in who I really am.

I am afraid (and have always been), that I am not as good as other people, as worthy as other people, or even just as interesting as other people. I’ve lived with a lifelong fear that my life isn’t interesting or glamorous enough. As a family, we are neither rich, nor hugely successful in the traditional sense of the words. We don’t go on expensive holidays, we don’t have hundreds of friends or a bursting social calendar. We especially do not have a dedicated family network (something I have always been very self-conscious of). I come from a highly dysfunctional background (drug addiction, schizophrenia, depression, suicide, abuse, the lot) and unlike most of the friends I have made in my 40 years on this planet, I don’t spent any significant time with family members. My husband comes from a very small family that he is not close to. We are basically bereft of that whole side of life. I’ve spent years trying to pretend otherwise.

Maybe it’s because of this that I spend so much of my time online. Reading and researching (because I never had a parent to teach me as I was growing up), sharing and exploring, and pouring my heart out into open digital space. Consequently, I’m kind of spread all over the place, in lots of nooks and crannies.

I want a single solution. A single, streamlined approach to sharing my thoughts, my photos, my writing, my life.

Why do I want to share?

I thought about this question a lot over the last few days. What drives our need to share what we do?

Sharing is a way of connecting. We want to connect, we want people to like us, so we share in the hope that they will like us. Often that means sharing turns into ‘peacocking’ where photos and status posts are all about how great things are and how wonderful everything is and hey, check out my new designer bag and the cruise I’ve just booked…

That’s not what I’m interested in. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad with what I share. But I do want to be a better, more open, person, and part of my failure to commit fully to any one platform is that I don’t have the confidence that I’m worthy of it.

I also would like a way to record what we do as a family – a kind of online journal of our weekends, holidays, and ordinary days. The little snippets of conversation that make me laugh and the photos that make my heart sing.

I basically want my whole digital life to be centralised from a single hub.

And then, as soon as all these feelings threaten to overwhelm me enough to be the catalyst for action, I feel fear. Fear that I don’t want to share myself with anyone because I will be judged. I remember my father telling me that he thought my blog (in 2006) was “kind of private”. At the time I was writing from America because I wanted to keep in touch with people back home. The fact that he seemed to disapprove of airing my thoughts – which weren’t particularly soul-searching or private – made me feel small and sad and like what I was doing was wrong.

🙁

But I do feel a change coming. I want to get this sorted out, and clear up all my scattered and far-flung digital profiles and half-started digital projects.

As the house we live in becomes ever more clear, I see with more clarity how things eat up our time, and how all of our ‘commitments’, from Facebook (because it is a commitment) to blogging to caring for our houses and possessions, right down to our regular jobs and daily/weekly/monthly chores, reduce the space and creativity for what we are really passionate about doing.

I want to build a life that I feel no shame in telling other people about. I want to create, not to endlessly consume. I want to share what I learn with others.

I want my use of the internet to be easy, genuine, and fun.

I just have to figure out how.

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