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My Top 5 Tips on Making Habits

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: Try The Common Rule for the 31 days of January with some friends, and see if that doesn't impact your lives 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 for, 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 you health than any weight loss goal. This will be of more significant impact to 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 communities because of (amongst other things) shared habits. Here's the reality: No matter who you are, you are a broken and frail person. 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 that 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 to 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 you need a new job, but more likely is that you are not thinking realistically. Perhaps you are setting habit goals during the downtime over winter vacation, which is great, but it is easy to forget that the habits that eventually will exist for you are habits 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 jive with my morning family routine? How does it affect my spouse eating 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 in Saturday’s, than make it a goal for Saturday’s. Don’t harm the conscience by setting something that you know doesn’t work in your everyday life.

4) Think in Big Vision, Live in Recurring Habits. There is no good formation without a big vision of who you are becoming. This is why I love annual conversations with friends 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 you can accomplish. Put otherwise, those are people you can become, but not ways you can become them. And you don't become someone by thinking alone, you become someone by living a whole life of united belief and action. 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 thins that continually prevent us from doing what we want to. For example, getting up early to read in the morning 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 around your children. The problem may not be that you need to get your work projects in on time, the problem may be that you need to turn off Internet browsers 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 do that. 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 sheet.

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