When you are on a program of continuous improvement, you are often adding some new activity to your weekly schedule, or improving the existing one. But by continually raising the bar you create a hazard: the increased potential for failure!
Here are a few things that can help you add a weekly commitment without so many setbacks.
1) Before you add a new activity to your life, make sure it’s important enough to push out some other activity.
This is true even if you’re just adding 15 minutes a day for journaling (an excellent activity to add). It is rather hard to make 15 minutes consistently. You already have morning, noon, and evening routines, which are timed to get you to work or home or sleep on schedule. You will need to cut out something: maybe reading the paper, or maybe late-night TV or surfing the web, or maybe a leisurely meal.
If there is nothing you would remove to make space for the new activity, it’s better not to commit. The new activity is not important enough for you.
2) Plan it for a suitable time block.
All times are not created equal. You will have more energy at some times, less at others.
If you’re adding recreation—maybe you want to see more movies—you can probably schedule it for an evening when you’re less energetic. But if you’re trying to start a business on the side, you will need some high-energy time for it—most likely in the early morning, or in the morning on weekends. (Unless you’re a night-owl. Then you might choose go to the matinee, and work on your startup at night.)
3) Set a physical reminder so you don’t forget to follow through.
Routines have inertia. One activity triggers the next. You will need to make a special effort to break the routine. You can’t count on remembering, you need a physical reminder.
One way to do this is to set an alarm. For example, you can set an alarm to go off 30 minutes before your usual bedtime to remind you to plan the next day.
Another way to do this is to create a physical reminder. It could be a note. Or maybe you pack your gym bag and leave it at the foot of your bed the night before, so you remember your intention when you wake up the next morning.
Don’t assume you’ll remember to follow through. If you don’t take proactive steps to remember the new activity, you will forget. The routine run as usual.
4) Plan for contingencies.
Things will go wrong. They always do. The key to following through is to adapt the commitment rather than drop it. And it is much easier to adapt if you’ve thought through various scenarios in advance.
For example, suppose you are running late, and do not have an hour to go to the gym as planned. You have only half an hour. There are a dozen ways to adjust. You could exercise at home with a video instead. You could cut back the workout at the gym. You could reschedule work so you have the full hour at the gym. The key to creating a new routine is to do something not nothing. Any form of exercise will help reinforce your intention to go to the gym.
Problems are inevitable when you are breaking routines. If you think ahead for what you’ll change, when you’ll change it, how you’ll remember, and what to do when things go wrong, you have a much better chance of success.