I was talking with a client about how he felt constantly behind on his email, Slack and other messages and small tasks.
I suggested having regular times to do those things: 15 minutes in the morning and evening each for email and Slack (for a total of 30 minutes, twice a day), for example.
He laughed and said, “Leo, I’ve tried that a thousand times and it hasn’t stuck!”
I totally get it. We’ve tried to form some powerful habits, and they work for a little bit, until they fall off.
But we can always come back. In fact, coming back to a habit might be the most powerful habit of all. Coming back, over and over again, just like we return to the breath, over and over again, after letting our minds wander.
It’s the nature of our minds to fall off habits. Sometimes it takes a dozen attempts before it really clicks. Sometimes more. Falling off the habit isn’t a problem — it’s just a part of the experience of shifting patterns. The problem is that we think we should never fall off a habit, and so we let ourselves get discouraged.
Think of it like brushing and flossing your teeth — you might somehow fall off doing it, but that doesn’t mean you should stop doing it altogether. Just start again the next day! You know it will be good for you.
How to Start Again
So here’s how to practice with coming back to powerful habits:
1. Notice that you’ve fallen off, and notice what the effects are. Are you feeling more scattered, more behind? This is what we do to ourselves when we fall off a powerful habit.
2. Set an intention and just start again. Take a breath, let go of discouragement, and just start.
3. Make adjustments this time, learning from the last time. Do you need more reminders? Need to make it more fun and rewarding? Need some accountability? In this way, the falling off and returning becomes a learning process.
4. Encourage yourself. Be as encouraging as you can. If you notice yourself discouraging yourself, stop immediately and find a way to encourage yourself. Have some phrases ready that help, find a motivational song or video or quote, ask others for encouragement. Do whatever it takes to encourage yourself.
It’s that simple. You might find yourself veering off course, but encourage yourself to stay on course, or to get back on course as soon as you can. It’s absolutely possible!
Some Powerful Habits to Come Back To
Here are some habits that I’ve found myself returning to, over and over, because I know how powerful they are for me:
1. Meditation. This one is obvious, but it needs to be included on this list. From time to time, I’ll fall off meditation for a week or two, but I always come back. Right now I’m very regular, and it shows in my life in many ways.
2. Email & messaging processing sessions. Two blocks a day: 30 minutes in the morning (about 15 mins for email, 15 mins for other messages like Slack), and then another 30-minute block in the evening. I process through them Inbox Zero style, trying to clear out as much as possible in the time allotted. Having two blocks like this, in the morning and evening, means I can trust that this will be taken care of, and I don’t have to worry about it all day long. It’s really a godsend, give it a shot (or come back to it)!
3. Single-tasking sessions for important tasks. Pick an important task, and clear everything else away. It’s what I’m doing right now, as I write this article — a full-screen app, no distractions, full focus. There’s incredible power in this simple habit. Do it over and over, throughout the day, and you’ll see yourself get an incredible amount done.
4. Regular blocks for the other tasks. I’ve found it great to create regular blocks for certain tasks, just like with email: a block for finances, a block for writing a book, a block for my most important project, and so on. Creating blocks like this means that these important areas will get taken care of.
5. Daily gratitude. It seems so trite to recommend a daily gratitude session, and yet those who do it will know how powerful it is. It can transform your thinking, from negative and complaining to fully appreciating everything and everyone in your life. It can transform how you see yourself, instead of thinking of your shortcomings and doubts, thinking of what you’ve done well, what you love about yourself. And it only has to take a few moments a day.
6. Daily exercise. Well, almost every day. It doesn’t have to be a lot. But it’s a basic act of taking care of yourself. And I’ve found it to be a great time to think, to reflect on your life, to come up with ideas.
What powerful habits would you like to return to?
This article was originally published on Zen Habits.
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