Habit building is a process and a skill that takes refining, trial and failure, and iteration.
Every action that we pursue can be broken down into its smallest parts and made easier to do or become automatic. It is one part awareness of the parts or steps in the process, and another figuring out what works best for you.
Habit building is a skill that I learned later in life but once I knew how to apply it to everything I did there was no telling what could become possible. It is behavior change through the use of repetitive action, routines, and daily practices.
Although I had become quite disciplined and regimented as a child, I sought out the principles of habit change. I read a flurry of excellent books, like Atomic Habits by James Clear and Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg, and listened to podcasts where seemingly successful people discussed their routines and habits. Taking this time to understand the practical uses of cultivating a habit building skill made it possible to apply it to my life.
Here are a few examples of how I applied habit building:
I wanted to learn how to swim. I packed my gym bag the night before. I set my alarm for 5:00 o’clock in the morning. I got in the pool and moved my body in the freestyle motion three mornings a week before work. In six months, I taught myself how to swim 40 consecutive laps.
I wanted to find my one true love. I used the song and dance of first dates to pull together the story of my life that I had to recount when I met someone new. It was awkward the first time since the process was so new, but became an effortlessly told story by the time I found her. I had been on so many first dates that the routine had become something I did without fear so that I could just be myself with someone who stilled my heart.
I wanted speech therapy to be part of my healing journey. I paired my therapy assignments with a daily workout schedule to hold myself accountable and stay consistent. I did at least three assignments per day before each workout. If I didn’t do them, then I couldn’t workout. In five years, I efficiently open stutter and became a three-time Ironman triathlon finisher.
I wanted to develop a daily writing practice. I bought a journal, woke up an hour earlier, wrote what filled my thoughts, and ended up with 365-pages on that year of my life. After establishing this morning routine, I swapped in my desire to write a book. I wrote one page or story a day for a year and a half. Two years later I have a full manuscript of my through-life experience of stuttering and change.
I wanted to lessen my fear of the phone. The COVID-19 pandemic hit forcing me to have to call in my timecard for work once every two weeks. I started by making the calls alone in an office, transitioned to my desk with no one around, and now in the middle of my cubicle farm. For a full year, I tested my resilience, was hung up on because of my stutter, and felt the toll of taking the risk. I went from debilitating fear and avoidance to significantly less fear without the desire to avoid it altogether.
Life eventually became about translating the process of breaking everything down to steps that I needed to do to get where I wanted to go. Layering healthy and constructive habits on top of each other created both an invaluable perspective and unbelievable change.
Taking the time to learn habit building skills earlier in life can significantly influence the quality of our lives and our approach to future challenges, big or small. Trusting the process of change becomes easier when we know the how.