How to start a habit in 5 steps!
Want to start a habit? To be honest, it doesn’t matter the amount of time you have. What matters is the amount of desire and discipline you have. I started writing a Song-A-Week when I was teaching High School Spanish full time. My time and energy were limited, but I wanted to commit to writing more, so I made it happen.
Who am I? Why seek advice from me? Maybe I'm not your perfect definition of "successful musician" but I can tell you that I set out to write a song-a-week and post a video every Monday for a year ... and now I'm happy to
announce that I've consistently written a song a week for 73 weeks and counting! I definitely know how to set a goal, pursue a passion, and stay focused.
Anything is exciting when you begin. We come up with these great ideas of things we want to do and then when the excitement of the moment passes, we don’t carry out the act. It reminds me of the episode of Friends when they are coming up with New Year Resolutions and calling each other out on never completing any resolutions. Monica holds up Rachel's journal and reads,“Dear Diary: I’m so excited, my resolution is to write in you everyday, see you tomorrow! ….. (Monica flips through the empty journal) NOTHING….”
-Season 5, Episode 11 - if you want to watch it ;)
We all can relate. It’s easy to be motivated in the beginning, but hard as hell to stay disciplined to continue. How many of those January New Year Resolutions are we still completing now that it's April?
My own inner dialog:
“It’s 4AM and I haven’t started writing my song yet”
“No one is watching my videos”
“I’m sick, tired, overworked, underpaid”
“I haven’t written a good song in 13 weeks”
“I’ve written the same song over and over again ten times in a row”
Blah Blah Blah. Excuses, excuses. No, but in all seriousness, it’s hard to stay motivated and consistent when there are always things pulling you down. And there will ALWAYS be things pulling you down.
We set out to do great things and then something gets in the way.
Busyness of life.
Voices in our heads.
Family, friends, kids.
Deadlines for other jobs.
You name it!
Whatever is holding you back, I hope my story can offer some inspiration to pursue whatever it is you’re passionate about.
Don’t think you can do it?
You may just surprise yourself. You’ll never know if you don’t try. What’s the worst that could happen? You stop? You fail? You suck? So what. At least you started. At least you tried. How will you know if you'll fail or succeed if you never even start. Give yourself the opportunity to fail. So many people ask me how I write a song-a-week... and to be honest, it comes down to desire and discipline. First, you have to come up with what you even WANT to do. Then, the rest will follow. Don't worry about that yet. Let's start simple.
Here's a list of ways to get started:
1) DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT
Hmm... it's kind of important to first come up with something that you want to be doing or something you want to change or improve in your life. No one else can decide this for you. You'll have to do a bit of soul-searching to first figure out what that is. I taught for 6 years with very little songwriting in my free time. It was something that I LOVED doing, but always found an excuse not to do it.
"I don't have time"
"I don't have the energy"
"I'm not feeling creative"
Maybe take a few minutes to jot down things you enjoy, things you don't have time for, things you wish you knew how to do, special skills, things you wish you could improve about your life. A new diet, exercise regimen, playing an instrument, writing music, writing a book, starting a blog, learning a new language, reading more books, being a pro-athlete (I don't know... this is your thing, you don't need my help to brainstorm).
2) BABY STEPS
Commit to something small. Take baby steps, people. DO NOT commit to something BIG. I repeat, DO NOT commit to something BIG. This reminds me of Bob from “What About Bob”. He takes baby steps to do everything. You have to remember that even if your steps are small, you are still moving forward. If you try to start with something too big, you will get overwhelmed and won't be able to keep up with it. It's important to be realistic. Start small.
To be honest, when I started on this journey, I didn't tell myself I was going to write a song-a-week for an entire year. I wanted to start writing more and I told myself I would write a song THIS WEEK and post a video by Monday. It was actually my students who encouraged me to write a song the following week and they even starting suggesting topics. They became an incredible support system. Which brings me to my next topic...
3) DECLARE IT TO THE WORLD!
Seriously, tell the universe. Tell your friends, family, students, teachers, and post about it online. In other words: hold yourself accountable (or have someone else hold you accountable). In the book. "The Miracle Morning" (awesome book, by the way, that I highly recommend), Hal Elrod talks about the importance of having an "accountability partner". Even if you don't want to tell the entire universe that you're learning to tight rope walk, or going on a diet, at least tell ONE person. Ask that person to support you and encourage you throughout the process. Check in with that person daily.
Don't have anyone supportive in your life? Check in HERE! Post about it in the comments and I will check in with you! Or even better, maybe someone else reading this will want to be your accountability buddy. Often times, we're scared to death to announce anything to the world - just in case it doesn't happen. Our internal voices start to wander off into "what-if-land". What if I fail? What if I can't keep up? What if no-one is being supportive, liking my posts, encouraging me? What if I change my mind? What if I want to do something else? Then DO IT! Don't worry about what other people think. (That's a whole other topic we won't get into now, but something most of us fear). Just do it. Do SOMETHING. Even if it's small. Even if there's a chance you could "fail".
4) Be Specific
Okay, this topic probably should have been #3, but declaring it to the world fit in so nicely up there. Being specific is so important. Be clear, to yourself (and the world) about what you're accomplishing. If you look up "goal setting" you always see S.M.A.R.T goals as a template for success. The "S" in S.M.A.R.T stands for "specific". 5 minutes of journaling, every night before bed, after brushing my teeth. That's a great habit!
When? After brushing my teeth (before bed)
How long? 5 minutes
How often? Everyday
You could even be more specific and say where and in what notebook you'll journal. Or what topics you'll write about. Or what you'll do if you can't come up with a topic. Maybe you'll just write anything that comes to mind or a list of how your day went or how you're feeling. Okay, okay, I can already hear the naysayers who have special circumstances. I get it. You have young kids. Maybe you have a baby who falls asleep with you and is attached at the hip, so you have zero spare minutes alone. I used to be a naysayer (No, I didn't used to have kids, but I did convince myself that I didn't have a spare minute, which was SO not true). We make time for the things that matter. Even if it's just 5 minutes a day or 35 minutes a week.
According to some study somewhere on the internet, people who attach a new habit to an already existing habit, are more likely to be consistent with the new habit. For example, if you plan to journal for 5 minutes before bed, after brushing your teeth, brushing your teeth is already a habit (I hope!) and by attaching this new habit to the old habit, you will be more likely to have success with the new habit (i.e.: journaling). Make sense?
I told myself I would write a new song every week and post them on Monday mornings before work (6:20AM to be exact). I did this because I knew that if I didn't post it before work, I probably wouldn't post it at all. I would get home late, be too tired, have papers to grade, etc. etc. Some weeks I stayed up until 1 or 2AM on Sunday nights trying to finish my song and video for Monday morning. It wasn't always easy, but I did it. I committed to it like it was my job and like my life depended on it.
5) REMINDERS & REWARDS
It takes a lot of intrinsic motivation to continue pursuing a passion that reaps no immediate rewards. I'm fortunate to have a lot of intrinsic motivation. In our fast-pace, fast-food, instant-gratification society, we forget that developing skills and making improvements in life take consistency and TIME.
You can't learn an instrument overnight. You can't learn a language in a day. You can't lose 50 lbs in a week. You can't improve your songwriting without writing consistently. Remind yourself DAILY the reasons why you're doing what you're doing. Be sure to have some way to measure your progress. Some things are harder to measure. You can step on a scale and instantly see if you're losing weight, but you can't always see daily improvements in language or songwriting skills. Once you find a way to measure or define your success with this habit, be sure to reward yourself. Acknowledge that you've been working hard, and appreciate your hard work, dedication, consistency, and commitment (Something I'm still learning to do... it's not easy to celebrate little accomplishments when you're always looking at what's next). There are SO MANY ways to define success (more on that later), but for now, be sure you are aware of what you're doing, why you're doing it, and be nice to yourself. Try to set realistic expectations and reward yourself for pursuing whatever it is you're pursuing.
Ready. Set. Go!
I'm anxious to hear what you're doing! (or want to be doing...). Are you a musician working to improve your craft? Need some inspiration? Need help setting goals and habits? Leave a comment. Tell me what passion you want to pursue or what habit you want to commit to. It's a vulnerable place to be, I know. But, I will personally respond to each and every one of you. Maybe you've already been killing it since January. Share that, too! You can inspire others. If you need help breaking down your goals into smaller, manageable steps, just let me know. Come back each week for some inspiration, advice, and tips for making things happen in your own life.
Thanks for following. :)