Today I want to talk about habit shifts, and how to once again get back into a habit you want to cultivate when you veer off course.

I’ve written about it before (see essays on restarting, time blocking, defaulting to finish, eliminating thinking, missing a day, why creativity is essential, and changing it up). The reason I keep writing about it is because habit shifts, like taking care of a physical home, take ongoing care and maintenance.

Building habits is like taking care of a home: but it’s your person-as-home, your mental space, your human space.

And I, like everyone else, need to clean my house on a fairly regular basis.

It was nearing the end of January. It was January twenty-second, in fact. I hadn’t written in my journal, in, well — I could look in my journal and see: it had been since December 22 —An entire month.

How did I get derailed for an entire month?

Once you stop a habit, or something you’re practicing, it can be easy to stay off course. Another day, another excuse. For me, I’d had visitors in town, I wanted to finish my annual review, I was sleeping in later, we got the flu—all of the reasons that one might have to delay or procrastinate something.

But I knew I wanted to get back to journaling.

Why wasn’t I doing it?

It baffled me: why wasn’t I doing it?

For me, this is a very difficult part of habit change: re-starting. Finding a way back in when you’ve fallen off course.

The psychological weight of it all: feeling guilty about not doing it, delaying yet again, being inside of procrastination. It makes it much harder. Finding a way to get back into a habit is a practice I want to cultivate as much as the habits themselves.

So I asked for help. How do I get back into it when I’m out of it? That’s the hardest part for me. When I’m in a habit, I can continue. But when the habit’s broken (or when the days are all different, like traveling), how do you get back in?

Three questions to re-start your habits and practices

Sandra Possing, a friend and coach I used to train with in San Francisco, had some wise advice that’s been sticking with me.

  1. Allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling about it.
  2. Check in about whether the habit is something you still truly want to be doing.
  3. Ask yourself if you want to be the kind of person that does [insert habit].

Over the past few weeks, the second two questions have been pivotal. First, sometimes there are habits that I think I ought to be doing, but don’t truly want to be doing. By asking myself whether or not it’s something I truly want, I can let things go if they’re no longer in line with what I’m doing.

And when I ask myself in a moment of procrastination, “Do I want to be the kind of person that journals every morning,” — I get a resounding, loud YES answer in my body. And with that, I’m up, I’m past the procrastination, and I’m looking for my notebook so I can start writing immediately.

Am I the kind of person who journals every morning?

The act of asking myself if I want to be the kind of person who does the habit has been essential.

Sandra reminded me, “Since we’re all human and imperfect and since failure is all just part of the process of growth and learning, I look at falling out of habits the same way. Notice, accept, learn, and jump right back on the horse.”

Thank you, Sandra!

(Also—Sandra is a phenomenal coach. I’m not running a mastermind group in 2018, but she is! She’s leading a 12-month program, so if you’re looking for a mastermind group, feel free to check out her program.)