One Simple Habit for Big Changes

One of the things that I have always been pretty terrible at is organization. Not the simple tasks, of putting things away in some semblance of order or keeping track of where I put things. Rather, I have always been bad at sticking with things because I’ve never kept track of my progress or taken the steps each day to make something new a habit. Now, this doesn’t really hold you back in tasks which only require you to answer a basic yes or no question to determine whether something got done that day.

For instance, in high school I one day decided that I was going to stop drinking soda all together. I never planned anything out or marked on a calendar how many days into this process I was. Yet, I was successful in quitting my daily soda drinking habits. Why? I made one change in lieu of drinking soda and that was replacing it with water. Thus, I could easily ask myself whether or not I had drank soda that day and know the answer. After 30 days of “No” in a row, there’s really no point in asking. (As a side note, I dropped 15 pounds within months by dropping that habit completely).

The downside to this cold turkey method of just quitting soda ended up having a negative effect on me and how I approached more complex changes I needed to make. What happened when I needed to track my finances or my diet or what work I had done for the month? That simplistic method no longer yielded good results and the bad part of it is that it sort of became ingrained in me that this approach worked well. I could maintain changes in these more complex areas of my life for days or perhaps even a few weeks before I lost track of my progress or why I had even started in the first place.

Keeping track of multiple variables over a middling or lengthy amount of time is way too much to focus on. Can you remember off of the top of your head exactly what you ate on a Thursday three weeks ago? Maybe, but could you do every other day? Probably not. It’s crucial to understand in life that big changes are precipitated by smaller changes carried out over a long period of time. So, it is these smaller changes that are perhaps the most important thing to master in your life in order to see results. They serve as sort of a beachhead from which you can build up your force and push forward towards attaining a larger goal.

I have found that the easiest habit that I can do in order to create major change in my life is to simply write things down. It is one thing to know that you ate terribly last Wednesday but to actually have to write it out piece by piece, kind of sets it in stone how much you’re screwing up your fitness goals. Also, you start to see patterns emerge in your behaviors which you can then remedy and correct.  Many people tend to think that writing out what you eat for the day is sort of overkill or obsessive. However, when you start to do it, you realize how much it can keep you on track.

“Oh, I ate tons of pizza four days ago. Probably shouldn’t pig out today.” These simple corrections in behavior help to break down bad habits and replace them with better ones. I like to write down my workout routine, what I eat, and the amount of money I spend on food. I stopped tracking what I ate and how much I spent on food for more than a few months and it astounded me how out of whack my budget and diet became. My brain will not simply keep track of these things on its own, most likely because I’m always thinking about other things I feel are more important to me.

Even though online banking exists and I can track my purchases digitally, writing it out forces me to confront my daily choices, and I have to read and add up any receipt for the day. This way, I cannot hide from any impulse buys or foods that I know I shouldn’t be eating and since it’s a daily habit I have to think about making these changes daily and think of ways I can avoid falling into the trap. Just in the first week of starting my spending log back up again, I have saved a humongous amount of money and am on pace to spend probably 60% less on food within the next month. Yes, I am that bad at keeping track of this stuff on my own, I need structure to keep myself in line.

It seems like each day now I think of a new thing to tell myself in order to keep me on track or I find a new thing to cut out. For instance:

  • I stopped thinking of small purchases in the immediate and started thinking more about their larger implication. That $2 drink each day could be $60 a month. That’s $60 I could invest in my Sharebuilder account or pay off some debt. Really makes me second guess impulse buys.
  • That $2 drink isn’t water, so why are you drinking it and making your workouts less effective?
  • Cancelled Netflix and Amazon Prime, saving about $200 a year. Both can be cool to have, but did I really need either of them?
  • $200 on a $1000 debt is 20%, is either of them worth that? Why not pay things down instead?
  • I’ve got plenty of books that need reading instead of watching some random movie. As such, I’ve finished two books I was in the middle of, almost done with another, and about half way through another. Boom! Productivity.
  • Started running again and can track each entry to motivate myself to go for another run.

This one little change of writing more things down and keeping my brain in the loop of what I’m really spending my day doing is spurring so many more changes to take hold. Plus, it is simplifying just about everything in my life and it will continue to get better as these newer habits take hold and start to run more on auto-pilot. It becomes easier to make changes in life when they don’t all have to be wholesale changes. Starting a new way of eating from scratch can be hard because food addiction and the behavioral patterns that have become ingrained. However, making smaller changes and tracking areas you need to improve upon over the long haul makes it a smooth process and all of the areas in your life become more aligned to how you want them to be.

You don’t necessarily have to keep a diary of long drawn out passages to keep yourself on track and your goals in clear view. Just by writing down the food you eat, exercise you did, and the money you spent, so much of your life can start to fall into line. It’s one place you can start building from today to reach a goal somewhere in the future.