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What Habits Are You Building This Year?

Here’s what I’m learning from mine.

Welcome to 2019. By writing this, I am following through on one of the habits I set out for myself in my annual planning period between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. The particular habit I’m talking about is to write at least 500 words a day, Monday through Friday, in 2019.

Why am I setting that up as a habit for myself? Because I realized during my annual retreat with Diane (my all-star life and business partner) that I am better when I write regularly. (You can read our tips for how to do a great annual retreat here.) I think more clearly and deeply. I’m more creative. I see patterns better. I learn more. I connect with more people more frequently. My 500 words can take the form of a blog post like this one. It could be an entry in my journal. It could be working on a longer essay or article, or it could be taking notes as I brainstorm other ideas or projects.

Like a lot of people, I’m always looking for ways to manage myself more effectively. (That’s the first of three key leadership imperatives I address in the new 3rd edition of The Next Level.)

With that in mind, some of the other habits I’m taking on this year include:

Read more books. I’ve always been a voracious reader but I’ve noticed over the past couple of years that I’m spending too much time reading the news. That’s been a problem for a lot of us lately. It’s important to keep up with what’s going on but how much marginal value is there in reading four or five articles on the same story? Not much really. So, to make sure I read more books this year, I’ve set up a reading list (you can see it here) and a plan. All the books I’m going to read are already on my Kindle app. That makes it easy for me to get in 15 to 30 minutes of reading time between meetings wherever I am. I’m not going to read more than two books at a time. There will be a morning book and a rest of the day book. The morning book is to get me in the right frame of mind for the rest of the day. The rest of the day book is to expand my breadth. Using this method, I finished John Carreyrou’s award winning page turner, Bad Blood about the fraud that went on at the former Silicon Valley unicorn, Theranos. I’m about two-thirds of the way through the thought provoking Buddhism Without Beliefs as my morning book and just started Stan McChrystal’s Leaders: Myth and Reality as my rest of the day book last night. I’m loving this routine!

Get more cardio. If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you know that I’m pretty much an everyday yogi. I took up yoga a little over eight years ago to manage the effects of my multiple sclerosis. It’s done that and so much more. I’m probably as strong as I’ve ever been, my balance is great and I’ve made a lot of good friends in the process. You don’t get a lot of cardio fitness with yoga though and as I ran for connecting flights a few times last year, I noticed I was getting overly gassed. I don’t run much for fitness anymore, so I’ve joined a gym close to where we live and have started taking bike, cross-fit and elevated treadmill classes three or so mornings a week. The trick I’ve found for sticking with it is when you sign up for a class on the gym’s app you can’t cancel it less than three hours before the class without endangering your right to continue to sign up for classes online. So, this morning, while I wasn’t exactly excited about getting out of bed at 6:30 a.m. for a 7 a.m. class, I sure wasn’t going to get up at 4 a.m. to cancel it so I could sleep in. I’ve been doing this for a couple of months now and have yet to regret going to class. I’ve also noticed that I’m doing better when I have to break into an unexpected sprint.

Get real about the guitar. Last summer, I gave into my rock and roll dreams and bought a beautiful black Fender Stratocaster guitar. (It looks like the one that David Gilmour played in Pink Floyd but is not nearly as expensive.) My original plan was to teach myself how to play using the Fender Play app and I’ve completed two of the five levels of lessons in the app. The other thing I’ve been doing is randomly learning how to play different songs that pop into my head by finding an online video lesson of someone teaching you how to play that song. It’s been fun, but frankly I’ve been driving Diane crazy as I’ve been plunking stuff out on the guitar saying, “Listen to this. Recognize it?” The answer is usually, “Um, no.” The problem is I haven’t had a plan to really learn how to play. Everything was too random. Fortunately, there’s this wonderful Australian guy online named Justin Sandercoe who, for years, has been putting together an incredibly comprehensive set of videos and programs for learning to play the guitar. I’m starting with the beginner level and am going to proceed step by step from there.

Manage Your Habits Effectively

I could go on, but what are the takeaways that might apply to you? There are a few principles at play in my habit examples that are helping me manage myself more effectively for 2019 that I think can help you too. Here they are:

Have a plan. You’re much more likely to build new habits if you have a plan. It could be a reading list, a well-designed instructional program or anything that creates a map for how you’re going to follow through.

Break it down. I love bite-size chunks. If you have a plan, there’s actually a lot you can do in 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes. Break your habit plan down into digestible bites.

Set some metrics. Write 500 words a day. Go to a cardio class 3 times a week. Have two books going at any given time. Those are all simple metrics that keep my habit goals in front of me. What are yours?

Make it easy. My online buddy Justin makes it super easy to learn guitar. He’s available whenever I can fit him in and I don’t have to get in the car to go see him. Carrying my books around on my Kindle app makes it easy to read wherever I am without the extra 2 to 3 pounds of books in my backpack, which I don’t always carry with me anyway. I always carry my phone. Make following through on your habits as easy as possible.

Build in accountability. Make it hard to back out. Telling all of you what I’m doing with my habits this year is one way for me to do that. Signing up for an early morning class knowing that I won’t have the opportunity to cancel it is another. What kind of simple accountability processes can you create for yourself so you’re compelled to follow through on your habits?

So what habits are you intending to establish for yourself this year? What kinds of plans do you have for doing that? What’s working for you? I’d love to hear your ideas!