Our lives are at a constant ebb and flow to the experiences and opportunities around us. But as we grow older, it seems our responsibilities as adults consume more and more of our time, and we have less time to “ebb” and “flow.” Our jobs, relationships, family, and friends take up most of our time; with the time we’re left with, it can be hard to muster up the motivation to do things we love. I always set a reading goal when I set my goals for the new year. Last year was the first time since I started this tradition that I didn’t meet my goal. In fact, I was over halfway short of my goal. My priorities and responsibilities shifted last year. I told myself I stopped reading in my free time because I didn’t have enough of it. But now, I’m ready to get back into it and shift my perspective around some habits.
If I have time to watch TV, I certainly have time to read, right? Before I moved, I had ample time on my hands, and everything about my life felt intentional. I didn’t have clients or deadlines to report to. I made my own schedule, and my entire focus was on creating an intentional life. But things shifted once I moved. By that time, I was already actively living intentionally. It wasn’t routines or habits I was building anymore because I was living them without much thought or grievance to them. But slowly, over time, some practices started to fall away, like reading. I told myself there wasn’t enough time. But it was never about the time. It was/ is about the blocks we all face to continue growing, so habits and routines fade away.
How To “Get Back Into It”
How we create habits of doing something is the way we create habits of not doing something. When you journal for over 66 days straight (the time it takes to build a habit), you establish a habit. From there on, journaling is habitual. At this point, you’re not fighting any internal battles to do or not do something; it’s routine. The same goes for creating a habit of not doing something. If you wake up on day 32 and decide you don’t need to journal that day, you’re twice as likely not to journal the next day (see James Clear’s Atomic Habits). So when day 33 rolls around, you might say, “I didn’t yesterday, so I don’t need to today.” And so on. Before you know it, 66 days of not journaling have passed, and you’ve created the habitual thought that you don’t need to journal.
Everything we do (or don’t do) starts with a subconscious decision. By doing or not doing something, each time we perform that act, our subconscious mind stores it as a habit. So when I stopped reading habitually, my mind started replacing my old neural pathway of reading with not reading. My life kept moving forward and making progress, so my subconscious mind decided it was safe and okay for me not to read. So how do we get back into “it” if our former neural pathway of doing something has been replaced with a neural pathway and habit of not doing something?
I don’t know about you, but something I can get super hung up on is the act of how I perform my habits daily. If something interrupts my morning routine, like a quick client call, I end up just diving into work and skipping the rest of my routine. I can meditate and journal at any time of the day. But I’m so hung up on doing them first thing that if they’re not done in the morning, they don’t get done at all. When you’re getting back into a habit, be it you haven’t done it one day or one year, the important thing is to start with a fresh slate. Getting back into a habit means looking at how it will benefit you now and in the future. Start with a clean slate and see if you can establish the habit in a new way than before.
Try It in a new way
Starting to journal again? Use your computer instead of a physical journal. Starting to read again? Try it in the mornings instead of before you go to sleep. When you’re re-establishing the habit, you want to convince your subconscious it’s a new neural pathway you’re creating rather than replacing an old one. This will help you see the benefits of the habit rather than the obstacles. When starting something over, you don’t want to pick up where you left off because where you last left off was where you gave up or stopped. Think of this as a brand-new habit with new benefits and new action. It’s not about how good you did it or how great it felt yesterday or last year. It’s about this moment.
Don’t restrict yourself to one way, one time, or one opportunity.
Don’t be like me and only let your habits be “successful” at one time of the day or in one specific way. Let the habits ebb and flow with your life as it is today. Putting restrictions on your habits makes them feel like work. Do what feels right today and what fits into your life at this moment. I work out five or six days a week, and I’ve always been very strict with my workouts as they become routine. But as my schedule has gotten so busy recently, I let my workout regimen pivot with me. I knew that if I didn’t, I would end up resenting working out, and eventually, it wouldn’t be something I do every day.
When you’re getting back into something, you want it to feel exciting. You want to feel like you’re going to learn something new, grow in some way, or feel good about whatever it is. Habits should never be something you resent or feel like work. If you force it, the “positive” habit will have the opposite effect. Build habits into your life, not your life around your habits. Let them sink into your day as they fit and as they feel good.
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