My wife and I are in the hospital right now with our second-born son. He’s just about 24 hours old, and in many ways, I can’t help but recognize the similarities between entering this world and trying to establish a new habit (which I watch and try to help my clients do all the time). I’ll give just a couple thoughts below in the effort of brevity.
These parallels came to me after a night with a single hour of sleep, as I lay down on my scarcely-padded wooden bench, (bench, not bed) and I vividly remember thinking, “I should grab my phone and write this idea down… you know what… if it’s that good, hopefully I’ll remember it in the morning.
So, here we are, with an idea that may or may not suck, and that may or may not be the product of an exhausted and elated brain. We shall see.
Establishing something new takes constant vigilance.
If you asked me to count just how many doctors, nurses, technicians, and other people wearing hospital type clothing have helped in the delivery and establishment of my son I couldn’t do it. All of these people are part of a system designed to check on him (and my wife) routinely, consistently, and to make sure that no variation in what should be taking place, is actually taking place.
They’re all like “around three hours and this should be happening, around twelve and this, by twenty-four hours so-on-and-so-forth and by 24 years he should be in the big leagues.” (Ok that last one was maybe my one hour of sleep talking)
We have yet to make it further than maybe an hour or so without having someone stop by the room for something.
New habits are no different.
Not everyone has the ability to hire a team around them, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have one at your fingertips. Whether you need reminders in your phone, an accountability buddy, or any other form of digital coaching, a plethora of options exists within that little glass cube. And we need to utilize it.
Why? Because it takes constant vigilance. You’re trying to start something new, whether it’s eating more vegetables, getting more sleep, reading a few pages of a book on a regular basis, learning to hold your breath for three minutes, learning to not hold your breath when you’re stressed (ironic that both of those last two can be the cure or the hurt at different times) and so on.
This is new for you! Not your normal. Oxygen was a foreign concept to my son yesterday. Today he ain’t getting no more of that womb stuff. So he needs to be constantly monitored to make sure he’s doing it right, and so do you. We are fortunate to live in an age where accountability is handy (pun), we just have to make sure and utilize it.
Also, make sure your goal is attainable. Don’t go and say as a 45-year-old 5’10” guy that your goal is to start for the Rockets next year. Once you have an attainable goal, set your system around you to take some of the mindfulness and willpower out of your hands. Because no matter what, you don’t have as much as you wish you did. From there, be constant in your attempt to establish it, until you’ve got it on cruise.
Don’t forget to cut yourself some slack.
Not one in this horde of nurses who are helping us has looked at my son while he’s sleeping and said “Look at this lazy freeloader. Time for him to get it together and start pulling his weight.” (Which still would only be 6lbs worth.)
You know why?
Cause he’s a baby. And new life is hard.
Every ounce of his energy is going into eating, and sleeping (and pooping). He’s currently hardwiring an entire system of knowledge and information that will be the stability he needs to grow.
“This is mom. Got it.”
“This is dad. Got it.”
“Mom has food. Got it.”
“Cold doesn’t feel good. Got it.” And so on.
Pretend you’re the same with whatever your trying to establish and give yourself some slack. In all actuality, you’re a baby at eating two vegetables with every meal. So act like it. Pay attention to your surroundings and what causes you to do what.
“Got drunk last night, head hurt, didn’t want veggies with breakfast.” Got it.
“Driver in hazard on last, got mad, drank beer after round instead of water.” Got it
“Played video games without a timer last night, forgot time, got 3 hrs sleep.” Got it.
“Office threw impromptu bday party, didn’t have a contingency plan, ate cake.” Got it.
You can learn from every single day and every single interaction with whatever goal you’re working toward. Good and bad.
“Invited out to dinner, had water and salad and chicken.” Good job. Got it. (Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back when you succeed.”
No one expects a newborn to be an expert, please don’t hold yourself to that standard, like so many people do. Build your system, build your awareness, and then let yourself grow. As you mature and start to master the first attainable goal, then you can grow it to the next level. In this way you age and learn, just like my son will.
By being mindful of these mirroring ideas, the idea that new habits are like being born new, we can really set ourselves up for success as we venture to improve. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and utilize all the resources you can to establish the proper procedures. It’s difficult, but as we know the other side is so, so worth it.