Habits: What's the “Right” Approach?

Allison Burney

Building healthy habits is good; being obsessive and rigid about them to the point of self-deprecation isn’t


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about habits.

When something is a habit, you just do it automatically, almost without thinking. It’s just ingrained into your psyche in a way that's become a part of you.

There’s no struggle or decision about doing it in your daily life anymore. You just know you will, and you do.

This is what writing has finally become for me. After years of struggle around it, I’ve finally reached the point where I just know it will be a part of my day, and that it has to. I haven’t yet connected this habit with a particular time of day or a specific place, but the acceptance that it will be a part of my day is always there now.

It used to be that I’d think of writing, or feel like I should, and then I’d spend most of my time making excuses as to why I didn’t really need to or why it was okay if I didn’t want to right now.

I wasted so much mental energy on the dance around not writing that I had no energy left to actually write.

Action Triumphs

My experience this past year is that when something is a habit, action ultimately triumphs over the mental dance swiftly and easily.

For example, I have the thought to write, and I go get my computer. (Or I have the thought to write after I finish the movie, and when the movie is over, instead of telling myself I’m too tired and I don’t need to, I instinctively just go to my desk, sit down, open up my laptop, and begin writing).

Habits take the “efforting” and struggling and negotiating out of the equation so that there’s no room for backing out. End of story.

The “Right” Approach

I’ve also been thinking about the right approach to habits, though.

The reason I want to create healthy habits for myself is so that I can make positive changes in my life without having to think so much about them on a daily basis. I just want to do them, enjoy them, and reap the benefits from doing them.

I recently wrote about making waking up early the main habit I want to focus on building this year. If I’m able to instil that one habit, it opens up hours of “me” time in which to do all the things I’ve been wanting to do for myself for ages.

It would allow me the time and space to take better care of my health in all realms (physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally) and it would also open up time to dedicate to my writing.

I want it to be a habit, not so that I feel regimented and “less than” if I don’t achieve it daily, but so that I have a guide for living well. I want it to serve as my guiding light, rather than feel like a burden I have to bear.

Why So Serious?

Far too often, people take their habits a bit too seriously, almost. What I mean by that is, when they miss a day (and they will miss a day, because they’re human), they feel like complete failures and beat themselves up for their slip up.

But I don’t think that’s the point. I think the purpose of habit-building is to give yourself a good target to aim for, so that when things get crazy in your life, you always have a focus.

I don’t believe habits should be the be-all and end-all, so that when you accidentally miss a day or fall sick, you simply lose all hope in yourself and give up because you feel like the damage can’t be repaired.

I’ve taken this route before, and it didn’t serve me well.

That’s why now, if I miss a day of writing because I had a crazy day and totally forgot, I try not to let it stop me from writing the next day, and the day after that.

One missed day doesn’t mean the habit has to be thrown out the window; it means you try again tomorrow. You pick up where you left off, and you keep going.

We’re Only Human

If I work on building this habit of waking up at 5 am, and two months into it (or two days into it), I sleep through my alarm and wake up at 9 am instead, it doesn’t mean anything apart from the fact that perhaps I was exhausted and my body needed the extra sleep. I can still go back to waking up at 5 am the next day.

It doesn’t mean I’m a failure or that I’m lazy or that I screwed up — or that I should give up. It simply means I’m human.

I think people are far too hard on themselves when they’re trying to do something new and make a big change in their lives and they have a little slip. I know I am.

Thankfully, though, I’m learning that the missed day isn’t what matters most; starting up again the next day matters a whole lot more.

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

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Writer & proofreader. I love travel, reading, coffee, and exploring nature. On a mission to keep learning, growing, and enjoying this adventure we call life.


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