5 Steps for Building a Smart Habit That Lasts

I just love welcoming members of my blogging community to Your Organizing Business, especially organizing and time management consultants who are willing to share their expertise with my readers. Today’s guest is Julie Gray, a holistic time coach, speaker and author.

You alone have the power to slow life down. Are you ready to use it?

Last Spring I ran in my eighth 10-Miler race.

But I wouldn’t call myself a runner. A more apt description would be a really, really slow jogger.

And I’m proud of that. Because 10 years ago I couldn’t run a mile.

I lived in South Boston at the time and had spent years yearning to be one of those “runners” you see on the street. My health was becoming increasingly important to me so I finally jumped in and committed. My first goal was to run a 3-mile loop from my apartment around Castle Island and back.

Here are the three things I learned as soon as I started running:

  • By committing to the process, I started thinking of myself as a runner
  • Learning how to run 3 miles was going to take me a really long time
  • In order to stay motivated I had to break down my goals into much smaller goals

I identified these small goals before or during a run to keep me going:

Run to the end of the block. Run to the beach. Pass the grandpa who is walking faster than me. Run 1 mile without stopping. Run to the hot guy without his shirt on (without tripping).

You get the idea.

As it turns out each of these smaller, more doable goals are considered milestones or “small wins” and their power to motivate cannot be overstated.

As Charles Duhigg explains in his acclaimed book The Power of Habit,

“A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, and influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves.”

In other words, tracking these small wins was the only reason I kept running.

If I waited to the end of my 3-mile goal to acknowledge my progress, I would have quit years ago.

How to Build Your Own Smart Habit

I didn’t know it at the time but my running goal taught me how to create a smart habit.

I’ve spent more than a decade reading, experimenting, and coaching people through the process of creating smart habits that actually fit their life.

Here are 5 steps for building a smart habit:

  1. Make a conscious decision to commit
  2. Identify the identity-based habit that will lead you to your goal
  3. Take a long-range, experimental view toward achieving your goal
  4. Break down your goal into smaller, doable “wins” you can celebrate along the way
  5. Keep yourself accountable by tracking your progress by yourself or with others

Your Challenge

Whether it is improving your health, becoming more organized, saving for a dream vacation, or prioritizing your work-life balance, I challenge you right now to consider the next small win you can commit to.

Here are some examples to get your wheels turning:

  • Leave work by 6 pm two nights this week
  • Eat an apple every afternoon
  • Pause for 5 minutes to review your priorities for the day
  • Take the stairs once today instead of the elevator
  • Spend 20 minutes filing papers one time this month

What I have witnessed over and over again is how crucial it is to make your small goal laughably doable. Anything that feels like too much of a stretch – especially at the beginning – will not create the momentum you need to build a new habit over the long haul.

When you come out of the gate with guns blazing, ready to conquer the world, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day and the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Ultimately, time management and habit change come down to allowing yourself to do far less so that you can accomplish much more.

Julie Gray is a recovering workaholic, chronic procrastinator, and self-saboteur. After spending 15 years learning how to move beyond these challenging habits, she now coaches others to do the same using mindfulness, body-awareness, and unconventional time management to create lasting behavior change.

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