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and why we should be making habits, not resolutions

Around the New Year, everyone is talking about starting over, taking hold of their lives, setting new goals and getting "back on track."


There is actually something beautiful about this. We all know that we're not quite right, and we long to start over. There is a common grace to the calendar that allows us to do that, and for that reason I actually enjoy this time of year very much.


However, I would encourage everyone to stop it with the abstract, amnesia-prone, annual resolutions and start with some concrete, daily habits.


Here is my challenge to you: Download the The Common Rule guide and try it with a few friends for the 31 days of January. See if it doesn't impact your life far more than making resolutions that you'll forget by January 14th.


There are numerous advantages. It's communal, it's habit-forming, there's accountability, there's a focus on technology. The list goes on.


Whether or not you decide to give The Common Rule a try, here are my top five tips on making habits.




1) Focus on Technology Habits. Odds are that your biggest hurdle to living with good habits is the smartphone you are reading this on. No one has taught us how to use smartphones, and how could they? They are barely 10 years old. We - the current generation - will be the people who are going to develop ethics for smartphones and other new technologies. They may be a bad ethics, or we might make some good ones. In any case, rules for healthy technology habits are still forming and will be forming for a long time. You should seriously consider daily and weekly habits of limitation for technology. This will probably be of more lasting importance to your health than any weight loss goal, and it will probably have a more significant impact on your work than any career goal.

2) Set Habits in Community. A central claim of The Common Rule is this: Habits form us more than we form them. The “us” is that sentence is intentionally chosen. What you think of as personal habits are actually huge drivers of community. Relationships are forged in common habits and communities are what they are because of (amongst other things) shared habits. Here's the reality: No matter who you are, you are a broken and frail person who struggles to do what you say you're going to do. That is why it is so hard to keep the promises you make to yourself. That is why it is so hard to stick to your goals. To do anything well we need each other, and this is why habits in community are both formative to the community and have a much, much better chance of actually sticking. On that note, my recommendation is that if you are reading this around New Year’s, stop making resolutions and start making habits. Here's how to start: find a few friends, download the guide, and commit to living according to The Common Rule for the 31 days of January


3) Integrate Habits into Your Workday. If your habits and goals are not in harmony with your typical workday, then you have a big problem. Maybe the problem is that you need a new job, but more likely it is that you are not thinking realistically. Perhaps you are brainstorming new habits during the downtime over winter vacation, which is great, but it is not the environment you will live the rest of the year in. It is easy to forget that the habits that eventually will exist for you are the ones that happen in the rhythm of Monday through Friday. This is why I emphasize regular habits surrounding work schedules as the keystone habits. I am not saying getting into the gym for an hour every morning isn’t going to happen, but I am saying if that’s your thing you need to ask, How does this new idea work with my morning family routine? How does it affect my spouse getting to work or caring for kids? How does this affect morning meetings? What time do I need to go to bed to make this work? If it’s realistically something you can only do on Saturdays, than make it a goal for Saturdays. Whatever you do, don’t harm the conscience by setting something that you know doesn’t work in your everyday life.


4) Dream with Big Vision, Live with Daily Habits. There is no good formation without a big vision of who you are and who you are becoming. This is why I love annual conversations with mentors on long term planning and goals. This is why I love journaling in the morning and dreaming with friends over drinks. But you can’t just decide you're going to “be healthy this year” or “be a better husband.” Those are aspirations, not actions. Big aspirations don't become realities without small, mundane actions that get you there. Put otherwise, those are people you can become, but not ways you can become them. Almost nothing happens outside of rhythms - whether annual, monthly, weekly or daily. So instead of saying "I want to be healthy," you should say, "I want to work out twice a week." Instead of saying, I want to be a better husband, you should say "I want to have an annual weekend away with my wife." Or "I want to do the dishes twice a week so my spouse doesn’t have to." You can’t just be a better husband, but you can do things that across time that will make you a better husband. 


5) Think Hard About Habits of Resistance. Much of our struggle with habits is not so much a struggle to do what we want to do, as much as it is to stop doing the things that continually prevent us from doing what we want to. For example, your inability to stop hitting the snooze button may not be the problem. The problem may be that you watch Netflix too late every evening. The problem may not be that you need more patience with your children, the problem may be that you need to stop multitasking on your phone while around your children. The problem may not be that you need to get your work projects in earlier, the problem may be that you need to turn off internet browsers while you’re at work. This is why The Common Rule is laid out in patterns of resistance and embrace. Embracing something is always the goal, but often resisting something else is the key habit that allows you to embrace the other thing. Good habits of embrace are necessarily going to involve habits of resistance.


For more on what I have used to turn vision into concrete habits, check out The Common Rule habit planner.

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