Building New Habits and Improving Your Life

It is the end of the year, so you are going to see a lot of articles about reflecting on the past year and setting habits for success for the new year. I recently read This 10-Minute Night Routine Guarantees Success Your Next Morning by Benjamin P. Hardy. Coincidentally, I just started using a paper planner again after a couple of decades of not using one. The one I chose is the Panda Planner Pro.

Those seem like a couple of random personal facts, but they are related. The article suggests ways to change behavior and reduce the friction in doing so. The planner supports getting the right things done during the month, week, and day to support the changes you may want to make.

First, let me state the difference between a planner and a calendar or schedule. A planner will have more in it than just your monthly, weekly, and daily schedule. Sure, these are important parts. But a planner, such as the PandaPlanner Pro, has a place for goals, aspirations, projects, tasks, focus areas, and reflection. Another planner I was considering was the Full Focus Planner from Michael Hyatt.

I will not repeat all the suggestions in the article. Essentially, removing friction when trying to make a behavior change is about removing the decisions you need to make to create that change. To remove decisions on any given day, it involves preparing for it the evening before. For example, if you are trying to go to the gym more, have your gym bag packed the night before and have it by your door so all you need to do is pick it up and go. If you are trying to eat healthier during the day, it may mean you need to have healthy foods available in your home and pack your breakfast and/or lunch the night before. These are the actions which enable the routines you are trying to develop.

Those are the little actions which can lead to some big results. Where does the planner come in? The planner helps you focus on the goals you want to accomplish and the habits you want to develop or maintain. It may be that in your planner, you need to put in those small tasks I note above so you can get your habit in gear. Put in “make lunch” and “pack a gym bag.” Put in “go to the gym.” Besides looking forward, you can then look back to see if you did what you planned when you reflect at the end of each day. If it did not work out, what can you change for tomorrow?

When using a planner, especially a paper one, the content on any one page is self-limiting. You cannot put down every possible to-do item for one day or one week. This is a good thing! Setting realistic goals enables more wins. More wins are more motivating. So, instead of thinking you only got three things of twenty on your to-do list done, you did all three on your plan for the day. Doesn’t that feel better? Doesn’t that make you want to put three items down for the next day, knowing you can probably get those done too?

In terms of building habits, over time you may not need to put in the small actions to sustain your habit. Once you know you will go to the gym each morning, packing your bag will be automatic. Once you establish taking a healthy lunch to work, putting it together each night will be routine. You can then use your planner to write down other less routine tasks you need to do or tasks to establish a new routine. But be careful. Make sure your schedule still includes all the time you need to keep your established routines. If it takes one hour to put your food together, pack your clothes, and other tasks to get ready for the next day, when does this happen? When you go to the gym, when does this happen? You may need to mark these times in your daily schedule so other less important tasks don’t creep in. Good luck with any New Years resolutions. If you make some, please consider a bit of the “how” you will keep them!

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