Every Sunday I create and print off a checklist table for the week. It includes things like work I need to do, habits I’m developing, exercise routines, and nutrition goals. At this point, there are twenty-eight things I want to check off… and man it feels so good to make that check mark, particularly the final one of the day.
I’ve found this method of planning to be incredibly valuable for me, particularly as someone who works from home. Many times throughout my day I feel a little unfocused or distracted and having a list like this gives me something concrete to do. I can look down and see that I haven’t meditated, eaten enough nuts and seeds, gone Pokehunting, or written a blog post, this gives me options for things to get done.
When I look at this piece of paper and see that I’ve gone on a morning run for the last five days straight it makes me want to keep up that pattern. It is added motivation. I don’t want my laziness to be what breaks the daily trend of positive behavior, it is added motivation. Usually, it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t work it starts a trend of negative behavior, taking one day off turns into two and then a week, and it is increasingly difficult to get back into my routine.
In fact, that is exactly what today’s meditation in “The Daily Stoic” was about, but it focused on eliminating bad habits as opposed to starting new ones. From Epictetus’ Discourses:
If you don’t wish to be a hot-head, don’t feed your habit. Try as a first step to remain calm and count the days you haven’t been angry. I used to be angry every day, now every other day, then every third or fourth… if you make it as far as 30 days, thank God! For habit is first weakened and then obliterated. When you can say ‘I didn’t lose my temper today , or the next day, or for three or four months, but kept my cool under provocation,’ you will know you are in better health.
A psychologist friend of mine had a similar insight on a Facebook post I recently shared, but she brought some scientific insight. When we think about something repeatedly our brain wraps myelin around that connection, strengthening it and making it a more commonly used connection. Procrastinating today means tomorrow you’re more likely to procrastinate. Being jealous or angry today means that you’re more likely to feel those emotions tomorrow. Our mind loves efficiency, and by practicing habits (good and bad) those pathways increasingly become stronger and more efficient and, eventually, become the default path we take. Luckily, we have the ability to be aware of this and create new, healthier paths.