Success and happiness require goals. And achieving goals requires a consistent routine. Specifically, a routine of action and productivity. The catch is that consciously developing a new routine can be extremely difficult and you will most definitely struggle and stumble more than once along the way.
So how do you stick to something like a new routine?
I have developed some success in sticking to difficult habits. Though I’ll admit to going through times of increased and decreased commitment based on what’s going on in my life at the time, over the past couple years (the last year especially) I have been able to stick to reading often, writing consistently, and going to the gym.
This is in addition to my everyday life. Working, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry etc. It’s difficult to successfully build new work and leisure habits—especially when you have a “typical day job”. This is because you have a natural separation (for the most part) between work time and non-work time, and it can be supremely challenging to use some of your time not spent in the office for work.
And that is what reading and writing are. They’re work. They’re enjoyable and you are doing them for yourself, but they are trying nonetheless. Especially if you are attempting to build a new habit of doing one or the other (or both) consistently.
So how do you stick with things?
On top of the obvious prerequisites—like the activity being something that you actually want to accomplish, and having clearly defined goals—I found that one of the most important ways to stick to habits long term is by giving yourself a break.
When I set myself on doing something and I falter–even slightly–resistance surges forward. It senses my weakness and seeks to exploit it. I expect this may be true for a great many people. This is why each day you miss at the gym makes it even harder to get back to it. You already fell back on your goal, so what’s the point of even going, right?
That is resistance charging forward.
The way I beat it back is to take a deep breath and realize that all is not lost because I faltered. Everyone falters, even Olympic athletes. What helps me is understanding what my goal is, and cutting myself some slack in order to actually achieve it. Your goal should not be to make it to the gym four days a week, but to get or remain healthy. And it’s far more conducive to your health if you miss a week at the gym and return to it, than it is to miss a week and give up completely.
Be wary of inflicting too much self-guilt on yourself. In the end it will hurt you more than it will help. Understand that life happens. I missed a few days of writing last week because I got invited to a Red Wings game by my sister and brother-in-law on Wednesday, and went out with some co-workers on Thursday.
Should I have planned better? Wednesday was very last minute, but I probably could have. Am I happy about missing days? No. But I am also not going to be so rigid in my goal to write that I pass up fun opportunities with family and friends. I’m learning that my goal is less to write everyday than it is to get back in the habit of producing quality and thoughtful content. And doing it as often as I can.
The best way to stick with things long term is to cut yourself some slack, and give yourself a break. Stay on your goals, but don’t get too down on yourself when life creeps in or you may lose the whole thing.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees.
Posts in the Life section are intended to allow our readers to discuss how they understand the principles of Objectivism and apply them in their own lives.