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Top Habit Mistakes (#1)

[This is Part 1 of my miniseries.] Don't let this common mistake get in the way of creating the life you want.

Mistake #1: Getting Overly Ambitious

If you've ever done the #100daysofpractice challenge or suddenly started exercising, then I will bet you did really well for 1-2 weeks. Maybe your frequency decreased but you kept up the activity. More likely, you missed a few days...and then a few more days...and here we are. (RIP my journal)

There are some habits that need to change immediately, like taking a new medication. But for most things, suddenly implementing a dramatic change is not going to be sustainable.

Here's why:

  1. Scheduling. It's easy to move things around for a new habit for a few days or even 2-3 weeks. But after that, you'll get busy or tired and for a variety of reasons the routine will get disrupted. And if you aren't in the habit of scheduling things AROUND your habit, it's going to fall back onto the back burner as all of your previous obstacles return.

  2. Dwindling motivation. In Wendy Wood's book, "Good Habits, Bad Habits," she explains that initial excitement and short-term motivation are great for STARTING habits. But maintaining them? That takes time and good ol' discipline. And the bigger change you make, the more discipline you're going to need to keep it going. That's challenging for anyone, but especially if you struggle with executive function.

  3. Unrealistic Expectations. When we start a habit change and we're feeling excited, we tend to overestimate how much we can really do. This could be an overly ambitious goal like practicing flute for an hour, or overcommitting by saying, "I'm going to write in my journal every day." Before long, the ambitious goal you set for yourself becomes a burden.

What should I do instead?

  1. Be honest about your time and what's involved. What is your life like now? If your habit involves making time for a new activity, that's going to cut into time that you currently spend doing other things. If you think, "I have time at 4pm," reflect on what you usually do during that time. If that's your post-work decompression time, are you really going to have the energy & motivation to do something else? It's okay not to! Not all of your free time is an opportunity.

  2. Your schedule also needs to include prep and transition time. When I started doing home workouts, it took me way too long to realize that I needed time to change and have a pre-workout snack AND I needed time afterwards to shower. Whatever your desired activity, make sure you include these in your plan.

  3. Set smaller goals than you think you need. When it comes to motivation, we are ALL aspirational. But when it comes to discipline, we humans are stunningly creative in our laziness. So in order to maintain your habit even after your motivation fades, you need the smallest, easiest, most achievable starting point. The EASIEST thing. Make it so small you think, "Well, I may as well do it."

  4. Be honest about what your goal actually is, and get creative! If your goal is to participate in #100daysofpractice but in your brain it has to be #100daysofpracticingforanhoureveryday, then you are setting yourself up to fail. What are all the different ways you can work towards your goal? You can listen to a podcast interview with a musician you admire. Take an online class with CorpSonore or Yoga For All Musicians. Play your favorite warmup or melody and that's it. Go to a mindset workshop with SPARK Practice or learn to problem-solve with Alison Hoffman. You get the idea.

When we allow ourselves to let go of arbitrary expectations and instead be mindful of our reality and the process itself, we often have a lot more flexibility than we realize - and that makes it WAY easier to maintain a habit!

Was this helpful? Let me know, and stay tuned for Part 2!

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