Looking back at the past couple months, I try and pinpoint a specific point of time that things changed. The reality is I can’t. There is, however, a noteworthy difference between myself today and last year.
The first behavior change I adopted occurred slowly over time. With the amount of time spent at home, I became aware of all the clutter in my home. And for the first time, it bothered me. I threw things out. I started organizing. I watched minimalist documentaries. I did a little each day to the point where I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Each evening, I’d put things away because I hated waking up to clutter. I realized the additional stress I was putting on myself by sitting in a messy space once it was clean.
I wouldn’t have developed this awareness had it not been for throwing something out, or organizing something, each day. I felt productive with my new habit. This productivity made me feel good. As a result, I kept doing it. It’s now been months since establishing the habit of tidying up each evening. I wake up less overwhelmed and less stressed.
Over time, I’ve been able to go from a messy person to an organized one. The very sight of clutter is stressful. Years ago, no one would classify me as an organized person. From clutter in my handbag to a messy room and house, I’d get annoyed at my lack of organization, but it didn’t occur to me I could do something about it.
Doing something small each day to organize myself and my house has changed who I am as a person. Now that most of the rooms in my house are decluttered and organized, I am focusing on my email inbox and other cluttered areas. The goal is to feel as clutter free, and therefore stress free, as possible. I know that if I focus on the goal, I’ll get overwhelmed. Instead, I am committing to continue doing what I’ve been doing because of the benefit I’ve seen.
Several months into COVID, I was lying on the bedroom floor complaining of boredom. I had done the housework and played board games with the kids. It was 11am. My husband suggested spending time learning something new. I always wanted to play guitar. The next day, there was a guitar sitting on my bed. I didn’t know my husband had one sitting in the attic.
Since that day, I’ve played guitar nearly every day. Some days I only play for 5 minutes. Other days I played for an hour. But one thing I did consistently was play. In the evenings, when the kids were done with baths, I picked up the guitar and watched a video on You Tube. I learned some basic chords. Each day was different, and the guitar made it more fun.
Over time, I’ve gone from a person who knows nothing about guitar to a beginner. It’s not much, but I’m definitely farther ahead than I was when I started. I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do. Playing guitar doesn’t feel like a chore to me. It is just something fun to do when I’m bored.
As my awareness in establishing consistent behavior grew, so did my desire to learn. Several people recommended the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. Knowing that I’m not the type of person to sit down and read consistently, I opted for the audiobook. I figured learning why washing dishes, or folding laundry, couldn’t hurt. It is one of the best books I have “read”.
Here are some concepts I have learned from the book that have resonated with me.
A small shift in direction can lead to a meaningful shift in destination.
By changing some habits throughout the year and starting new ones, I’ve changed my destination. Spending a couple minutes decluttering each day has made me an organized person. That small shift in direction has changed my identity. It’s given me a sense of freedom and relaxation that I didn’t think possible.
It’s better to do less than you hoped than to do nothing at all.
We often feel activities need to be all or nothing. If I don’t have an hour to allocate to my workout, I don’t bother starting. I’ve done this for years. I assumed blocking time in my outlook calendar was the answer to my problems. If I block off 8 to 8:30 every morning, I’d be able to complete a quick workout before my day started. Instead, clients would schedule early meetings. If not, I’d have a meeting with our team in India. I could never predict whether that time would be available each day. As I missed more and more of these scheduled sessions, my motivation decreased.
There may not be much time between meetings but I’m often on meetings where I just need to listen. They are the type of meetings that I need to pay attention but that I often don’t have anything to contribute. After reading Atomic Habits, I’ve started doing a couple exercises during these meetings. I’ll spend a couple minutes stretching. If that’s all I can do that day, so be it. Otherwise, I’ll try and spend a couple minutes doing crunches, or squats or using a resistance band. These small workout sessions add up over time. It also changes your behavior. I’m no longer dreading the walk outside in the cold to get to my workout equipment in the garage. I’m now sitting in the same room I work in but shifting time to do something else.
This change has decreased my workout guilt and has helped me develop a habit of consistent exercise. I’m no stranger to exercise. I’ve worked out on and off for years. My problem has always been consistency. By doing a little bit each day, I’m slowly conditioning my behavior.
You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist.
I can’t become a better guitar player if I don’t play guitar. I can’t become organized if I don’t tidy up. I can’t build muscle if I don’t strength train. There are things we want but often, we don’t make an effort to start them.
By committing to something a couple minutes each day, we are creating a new habit. After we establish the habit, we can work on improving it. As we improve our habits, we shape our identities. It’s truly amazing what five minutes a day can do. Now that I’ve seen the benefits firsthand, I’m motivated to continue using my couple minutes each day on different things. Right now, I’m commiting to five minutes of guitar playing and exercise each day. When those behaviors are ingrained, I’ll slowly add others. What are you committed to?