in Personal Development

One Simple Way to Maintain Good Habits

This past week, I worked close to 80 hours at my full-time job. While I’m sure my friends in investment banking would scoff at those hours, it was a new experience for me. It’d be a stretch to say that I loved every single hour of it, but for the most part I got through it relatively unscathed (although I’m sure this won’t be the last time I pull these hours).

That being said, spending 80 hours a week on work does make it more difficult to find time for the rest of one’s typical routine. I’m sure you’ve been there at some point yourself – those days where you’ve spent all your energy and the only thing you want to do, or perhaps are capable of doing, is flopping on the couch and watching TV.

We feel guilty, though, because we know better. We have goals to achieve and habits to stick to, and we know we should be pursuing them for our greater benefit. So how do we do it?

For me, my personal priorities are fairly simple: hit the gym at least three times a week; spend quality, silent time reading books every day; and write and publish a post at least once a week.

I’ve been able to stick to this routine successfully by keeping in mind one simple idea, even amid this past 80-hour work week.

The idea is this:

Reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule

I first heard of this phrase from James Clear, but I had been effectively applying it to my routine to develop and maintain new habits for several years.

What this means is to put the schedule first, and the magnitude of the activity second. It’s keeping to the schedule you set out for yourself no matter what the circumstance is.

For example, there will be days when you don’t feel like working out or are physically sick. Or a million other excuses. Reducing the scope but sticking to the schedule means hauling yourself to the gym regardless of that fact, but reducing the intensity of your workout. Instead of spending an hour at the gym, you would spend 30 minutes, or perform a lighter workout than usual. Instead of running 5 miles, you would perhaps run 1.

This is exactly how I incorporated and ingrained my own workout routine, which I’ve kept to for over four years. There were days where I would literally eat an all-you-can-eat meal at my college cafeteria and head to the gym right after, just because it was the only way to fit a workout in. Other times I would go to the gym after having pulled an all-nighter and spent a day taking exams.

These workouts weren’t pretty, and I would usually lift less than what I was scheduled to do, but I knew that if I broke my routine, it would be easier to justify to myself not going the next day, and the day after that, and so on.

I’ve since been able to apply this same idea to my fairly new goals of reading more and writing more. I’ve read more non-fiction books this year than I have in my entire life, and have written articles that have been read by thousands. I’m not perfect by any means (I went through a stretch of time where I failed to write consistently), but for the most part I’ve made progress. I’m grateful I’ve been able to make these changes, and it stems back to the idea of reducing the scope, but sticking to the schedule.

Remaining on schedule is key, but reducing the scope is just as important because it lowers the pressure on yourself to meet your own high expectations. I probably only read 30 pages of my book this week. I’m writing this article at 10PM on a Sunday to be published Monday morning.

Ideally, I’d read at least one book a week. Ideally, I’d like all of my articles to be incredibly well-researched and have a major impact. These things won’t realistically happen every time, so it’s more important that I lower my expectations, publish something anyway, and maintain my habit for the long-term.

It’s a simple idea, but it can be applied to any goal you wish to achieve. Long-term success in any activity hinders more on slow, consistent gains than on sporadic bouts of inspiration. Sticking to the schedule is how tiny goals can turn into a lifetime of healthy habits and ultimately great achievements.

Set a schedule for something you’d like to accomplish today and finish it, even if it’s smaller than you anticipated. Then stick to it, and don’t break the chain.

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