Thoughts by Bruno Bernardino

Creating and maintaining new habits

And how that translates to a meaningful life

March, 2014

The Power of LESS by Leo Babauta


If you don’t know who Leo Babauta is, he’s an advocate for simplicity and minimalism, leading to a more productive and meaningful life.

I love his work, and one of the most important books he wrote you should read is The Power of LESS. I’ve learned a lot from it on how to create and maintain new habits.

The experience I’m talking about here was greatly influenced by his teachings.


What you might struggle with

When forming new habits, people don’t often think about their sustainability.

A habit is something you’ll do often, and as most things you do often, you didn’t just start doing them in a week. It took months, sometimes years, to form those habits.

However, even before deciding on which new habits to form, you need to take a step back, and think about the objectives you want to achieve with those habits.


Prioritizing and minimizing

1. Short list

The first and most important thing to do, is to define your “short list”, with the 3-4 most important things and commitments in your life (mine are set around spending time with my significant other, being healthier, and learning more).

If you have commitments that don’t contribute to this list, don’t do them. This will free up the time for the most important things.

If you have — like I had — a list of “things” or “projects” you want to do in the future, remove everything that doesn’t contribute to that short list. I actually removed most of them.

The point here is that if you have a list with a lot of items, those will just distract you and not let you focus on what’s really important.

2. Long-term goals

The second thing to do, is to create a “Long-Term Goals” list with the 3 things you want to accomplish that year. These should be more specific goals like “travel to X countries” or “read Y books”.

These should contribute to your short list, and are the ones you’ll be looking at when you are thinking of what to do next, or if you should accept a commitment.

3. Monthly habit

This is where habit forming will start.

You don’t need to have to create or improve on a habit every month, but it’s important you don’t stop it until it’s actually a formed habit (hint: you should do it almost without thinking about it, it just feels natural in your routine).

After you have defined your short list and long-term goals, you are aware of what’s really important to you, so now you can create a new habit, or improve an existing one.

Define what that most important habit is, and start with just that.


Start ridiculously small

Let’s imagine the new habit you want to form is running an hour a day.

If you start by trying just that, you’ll most likely fail.

Why?

Because it’s too different from what you do already, and hard, and difficult… and you were feeling so good sitting in that couch.

How do you avoid that friction?

In your first month, your monthly habit will be to just run 5 minutes a day.

It will seem and feel so easy, but that’s exactly the point. How can you not just run 5 minutes a day?

Don’t give into temptation

It will seem so easy, that you might think “oh, I’ll just run 10 minutes today”, but don’t do that, because you’ll be making the habit harder, setting it up to fail.

Improve slowly

You should only start increasing the difficulty after you feel the habit has started to form (for me, usually after a month or two, depending on the habit).

Yes, it will take a while, but that’s why it sticks with you after you move on to other habits.

Why just one monthly habit?

Because humans are silly and lose focus easily.

If you are just focusing on one small thing, with very tiny difficulty increments, the habit will form and improve naturally.

If you try to form more than one habit per month, you’ll most likely fail, because your focus will be spread, and you’ll feel more friction to form all new habits.


My monthly habits

For the past year, I’ve created and maintained a few habits, like eating slowly (the most difficult one, which actually took 4-5 months), taking small breaks during the day to move and focus on good, slow breathing, and reading after work.


The importance of saying “no”

If you can detect a pattern here, is that to achieve a meaningful and happy life, you have to do things that relate to your life goals, and once you start achieving that, you’ll feel happier.

Also, one of the hardest things you’ll have to do is say “no” a lot (to people trying to take up your time, asking you to do things that won’t help you in any way, etc.).

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experience things that don’t relate to your life goals, just don’t have those be in the way of the others that do relate.


Bruno Bernardino

Written by Bruno Bernardino.
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