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Getting In The Habit: Baby Steps Toward Change

Getting In The Habit: Baby Steps Toward Change

Raised as a Catholic, I was well aware of habits. First, because nuns were wearing them, and nuns were not to be trifled with, and secondly, because nuns were always on a mission to instill the good ones.

At this stage of the game, many of us have our own inner nun overseeing our “good” and “bad” habits. The inner Sister (or substitute whatever voice of conscience works best for you) gives her blessing when we’re “good” (ie: flossing, exercising, being punctual). When we mortals are “bad,” however, the inner nun riding side-car in our brain is often shaking whatever she can at us (her finger, a ruler, her veiled and wimpled head) as she stands in judgment over pastimes that can include: not doing any of the “good” things listed above; over-working, -eating, -drinking or -facebooking; procrastinating; staying up too late; being messy; smoking… the list goes on.

Wherever we’re sitting in life right now, it’s fair to say that our habits have played a part. They’re like the connective tissue linking together the hours, days, months, and years of our lives. They wield their influence on everything from the quality of our relationships and our productivity, to our health and the state of our wealth. So, if you’re looking to make changes for the better, consider changing your habits – the daily building blocks of your life.

[Related: Integrating your Health and Your Wealth]

Path To Change

Leo Babauta knows first-hand about changing habits. In 2005, he successfully quit smoking after having tried several times, and then applied the same methods for change to other habits he wanted to eradicate. In 2007, Babauta started sharing his approach on a blog called Zen Habits, and now, nearly ten years later, he’s still going strong. Babauta’s blog has been featured multiple times on Time Magazine’s “Top Blogs” list (including the #1 spot), for offering Leo-tested, habit-changing methods for everything from losing weight, and getting out of debt, to increasing earning power, and, generally, simplifying life – helping millions of readers in the process.

Babauta says he’s successful because he makes changes in small manageable steps. He offers a handy “cheat sheet” that includes this tip and more in “29 Ways” to change a habit on his website. I’ve featured his first five steps here to help get you rolling:

1) One At A Time – If you’re trying to change more than one habit at a time, you’re setting yourself up for failure, according to Babauta. He says it’s important to focus on just one habit at a time for the greatest chance of success.

2) Start Small – If you want to create a new habit, say exercise or meditation, start by doing it for 5 or 10 minutes at a time – the shorter, the better, so it’s not so overwhelming.

3) 30-Day Challenge – A lot has been written about habit-change taking 21 days to truly stick, but Babauta says it’s actually closer to 70 days in his experience. He suggests challenging yourself to practice a new habit at least 30 days in a row to give you the strongest start.

4) Write It Down – In a journal, the notes app. on your phone, or in a letter that you stamp and send to an accountability partner or even just to yourself – document the habits you’re set on changing.

5) Create A Plan – When you write down what you want to change, be sure to include your action plan of how you’re going to do it. As part of your plan, also include: what’s motivating you to change, any obstacles/ triggers to beware of, and who is supporting you in your efforts.

[Related: How to Manages Changes and Transitions Successfully]

Aristotle is quoted as saying, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” So practice the good habits you want to instill – taking baby steps at the start – and then give that critical, “inner nun” an extended time-out.

This article previously appeared on


Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the 2nd edition, and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to Huffington Post, AOL Jobs, Ellevate Network, and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. She hosts and produces an online showcalled:Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women on YouTube. Caroline also hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life- on iTunes. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter.

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