I’ve been talking a lot about productivity lately, and I’ve mentioned how important my own habits are to my goals and routines. I get comments on those posts like, ‘How do you (workout, practice language, cook, write) every day? It seems like a lot so how do you find the motivation to do it?’ The answer to those questions is simple – those activities are simply habits so my brain and body require less willpower to do those activities.
The question people really should be asking is ‘How did you form the habit to do ‘x’ in the first place?’ because that’s the hard part. Once something is a habit, it’s not as difficult anymore, portions of it become automatic, the feeling is so ingrained, it doesn’t take as much effort.
But forming a new habit? It requires a lot of effort. The concept of inertia fits perfectly here. Inertia is defined as matter’s tendency to stay at rest if already at rest, or alternatively, to stay in motion, if already in motion.
The habit of working out is the best example. Before you are in the habit of working out, it takes a huge amount of willpower, effort, and motivation to make yourself go to the gym – your body wants to stay at rest. But once it becomes a habit – your body is in motion – and it wants to continue that way so it becomes easier.
So how do you do this? How do you form a new habit? I’ll use my own decision to seriously commit to practicing language without the rigor of a classroom to turn to since graduating university.
First you have to answer the ‘why?’. Why is forming a new habit important to you? Is it to improve your health? Is it to learn a new skill? How will it better your life? I chose to start my personal language journey with Greek. It was specifically important to me to improve my speaking skills in order to converse with my family more easily. That goal kept me going and expanded my language practice to my others of Mandarin and Spanish.
Next, you gotta have a plan right? What we be the actual habits you practice to achieve the goal of starting in the first place? For my goal this meant practicing with Duolingo and flashcards that I made, every single day, as well as having a weekly lesson with a paid tutor (putting some money on the line helps any goal), and outlining my goal to my dad who makes a concerted effort to speak in Greek with me even though English would be far easier for the both of us.
Lastly, find something to hold on to when it gets tough – because it will get tough, especially when you’re first starting. For me, I reflect after every tutoring session on how accomplished I feel and I hold onto that feeling. Every time I ever even consider skipping a day of practice or skipping a tutoring session, I remember how good I feel afterward and that’s enough to get me to push through.
Like everything worthwhile, habits are hard to form, and in the early stages, they are also easy to break. But if you can find that thing to keep you going, habits also have the double edge of being difficult to break once they’re ingrained within you.