How I Formed a Habit in One Evening


Habit: Spend five to ten minutes every night brainstorming ideas, creating a To Do list, and prioritizing the list.

That was my desired habit. Yours may be completely different. I would, of course, like to see one of your habits be the regular recording of your expenses, and a monthly budget meeting.

21, 30, 45 days? Nah. I managed to nail this habit down in one evening with six steps.

1. Routine Mapping – Visually Reminding

My first step was to visualize my daily routine. You’ll find that you do have a routine, even if you don’t think you’re a routine person. I visualized where I showered, dressed, ate, drove, worked, etc. I then strategically placed written reminders in those areas: “To Do!”

This isn’t a new strategy, though I did perhaps take it to the extreme when I spray-painted “To Do” on the overpass I drive under every day (I’m kidding — but couldn’t I hang a sign there or something? All of my fellow commuters are well aware of the fact that Jane loves Steve. It’s working.).

No, the extreme part of the strategy is hitting your routine in multiple places. Several months ago I made a sign that I hung on the wall directly above my main computer monitor: “Are you adding value right now?” This was supposed to remind me to stay on task and do things of value. I never see the sign anymore. It’s there, but I don’t see it. I need to either 1) move it, or 2) change the color of paper. Putting a sign on your bathroom mirror is fine, but also stick one on the fridge, on your car’s sun visor, on the inside of your office door at work, on the back of your office chair, right behind your toothbrush, in a sleeve protector in your shower, and under your pillow.

2. Make it Public

I’m doing this right now. I’m letting everyone reading this know that I now have the habit of planning my daily tasks. I feel accountable. This really does work. Why do we see so many blogs appearing for getting out of debt, losing weight, and improving oneself? The blog authors are making themselves accountable to their readership — and it works.

You may not have a blog, but you have other methods for getting the word out. Call some friends, send out an email. Make it known! The pressure will be healthy for you.

3. Schedule It

You probably have some type of appointment book. Write an appointment in there to ___________ [desired habit here]. I wrote mine on the next 30 days at the end of every day. I have a standing appointment with myself and I intend to keep it.

4. Use Other Reminders

Grab your Outlook software and build in reminders as frequently as necessary. Better yet, use Jott to send you reminders on your cellphone (you likely always have your phone nearby, where you may not be sitting at your computer all day).

(Jott can be used to help you organize “random” ideas you have throughout the day. You just call and tell it you’re jotting to yourself, then start speaking. It will transcribe the message and email you.)

You could conceivably have Jott text you every evening at 9:30 PM:

Dude, you need to do thirty pushups before going to bed.

Voilá. Your pectorals are more defined.

However, more effective would be to market the new habit to yourself a little more effectively. Just talk about benefits:

Dude, with rock-hard pectorals, you’ll have the confidence needed to (finally) talk to ________.

5. Remember, This is Just the Temporary You. The Old You Will be Back Shortly.

I spent some time honestly telling myself that this is just an experiment: Jesse, this whole task organization thing is just a test. If it doesn’t fit the real you, well, then you can just stop after August 10th. Don’t worry. You only have to keep doing this if you really like it.

6. Don’t Strive for Perfection. Strive for Consistency.

In writing down exactly what your desired habit is going to be (both in your visual reminders, other reminders, appointment book, public email, blog, and perhaps in your journal), be sure to outline the parameters for success. Make them doable. This sixth step was key in my cementing my new habit into place.

When first beginning a budget, people are gung-ho about the whole deal. They want to set their spending limits and watch as everything goes just perfectly and they stay under budget in every category (we’re yet to experience that, going on 5+ years of using YNAB). You’re in for some big disappointment if you set your parameters for success too high.

Notice, I carved out five to ten minutes each day. I didn’t shoot for 30 minutes of meditation/visualization. I need something doable, and five or ten minutes each day is doable.

Do less.

My friend Ramit from IWillTeachYouToBeRich said it best,

“Do you know people who get so into their idea du jour that they go completely overboard and burn out? For me, I would rather do less, but make it sustainable.”

If you’re just starting out on your budgeting, pick a single budget category and try and stay under. Don’t worry about any of the others. Just focus on one that you’d like to beat. Prove to yourself that you can do that consistently over a month or two and then pick another one or two categories and focus.

A New Habit is Formed

I’m on day one of my new habit. It’s going great. You may say that they say it takes (21, 45, 30) days to form a new habit–that a habit can’t be formed in one evening–but I’m confident you’re wrong! These six steps make it a given.

Oh, I suppose Step 2a is to be so publicly brazen about your new habit that it really is a given.