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Make it a Habit: Start a New Habit in One Evening

I wanted to make it a habit.

Make what a habit, you might be wondering? Well, lots of things, but this particular time, I wanted to spend five to ten minutes every night brainstorming ideas, creating a To Do list, and prioritizing the list.

Yours may be completely different. I would, of course, like to see one of your habits be the regular recording of your expenses, and a monthly budget meeting but start with whatever you’d like!

How Long Does it Take a Habit to Form?

The experts have all kinds of theories on how long it takes to form a new habit. 21, 30, 45 days? Nah. I managed to nail this habit down in one evening with six steps.

The Six Steps to Creating a Habit

1. Routine Mapping – Visually Reminding

My first step was to visualize my daily routine. You’ll find that you do have a routine, even if you don’t think you’re a routine person. I visualized where I showered, dressed, ate, drove, worked, etc. I then strategically placed written reminders in those areas: “To Do!”

This isn’t a new strategy, though I did perhaps take it to the extreme when I spray-painted “To Do” on the overpass I drive under every day (I’m kidding — but couldn’t I hang a sign there or something? All of my fellow commuters are well aware of the fact that Jane loves Steve. It’s working.).

No, the extreme part of the strategy is hitting your routine in multiple places. Several months ago I made a sign that I hung on the wall directly above my main computer monitor: “Are you adding value right now?” This was supposed to remind me to stay on task and do things of value. I never see the sign anymore. It’s there, but I don’t see it. I need to either 1) move it, or 2) change the color of paper. Putting a sign on your bathroom mirror is fine, but also stick one on the fridge, on your car’s sun visor, on the inside of your office door at work, on the back of your office chair, right behind your toothbrush, in a sleeve protector in your shower, and under your pillow.

2. Make it Public

I’m doing this right now. I’m letting everyone reading this know that I now have the habit of planning my daily tasks. I feel accountable. This really does work. Why do we see so many blogs appearing for getting out of debt, losing weight, and improving oneself? The blog authors are making themselves accountable to their readership — and it works.

You may not have a blog, but you have other methods for getting the word out. Call some friends, send out an email. Make it known! The pressure will be healthy for you.

3. Schedule It

You probably have some type of online scheduling app or appointment book. Write an appointment in there to ___________ [desired habit here]. I wrote mine on the next 30 days at the end of every day. I have a standing appointment with myself and I intend to keep it.

4. Use Other Reminders

Open your calendar app of choice and build in reminders as frequently as necessary. A productivity app like Todoist is another good option, and even more effective if you install it as a widget on your phone’s home screen (so you can’t ignore it).

Add a reminder like:

Dude, you need to do thirty pushups before going to bed.

Make it a habit by creating a system of accountability.
Adding reminders in a productivity app like Todoist can help create personal accountability.

Voilá. You make it a habit. Your pectorals are more defined.

However, more effective would be to market the new habit to yourself a little more effectively. Just talk about benefits:

Dude, with rock-hard pectorals, you’ll have the confidence needed to (finally) talk to ________.

5. Remember, This is Just the Temporary You. The Old You Will be Back Shortly.

I spent some time honestly telling myself that this is just an experiment: Jesse, this whole task organization thing is just a test. If it doesn’t fit the real you, well, then you can just stop after August 10th. Don’t worry. You only have to keep doing this if you really like it.

Anything that feels too limiting, or like a burden, probably isn’t going to stick. Don’t count on your newfound motivation to create a new habit; implement systems, processes, or routines to keep you on track.

6. Don’t Strive for Perfection. Strive for Consistency.

In writing down exactly what your desired habit is going to be (both in your visual reminders, other reminders, appointment book, public email, blog, and perhaps in your journal), be sure to outline the parameters for success. Make them doable. This sixth step was key in my cementing my new habit into place.

When first beginning a budget, people are gung-ho about the whole deal. They want to set their spending limits and watch as everything goes just perfectly and they stay under budget in every category (we’re yet to experience that, going on 5+ years of using YNAB). You’re in for some big disappointment if you set your parameters for success too high.

Notice, I carved out five to ten minutes each day. I didn’t shoot for 30 minutes of meditation/visualization. I need something doable, and five or ten minutes each day is doable.

Do less.

My friend Ramit from I Will Teach You To Be Rich said it best:

“Do you know people who get so into their idea du jour that they go completely overboard and burn out? For me, I would rather do less, but make it sustainable.”

If you’re just starting out on your budgeting, pick a single budget category and try and stay under. Don’t worry about any of the others. Just focus on one that you’d like to beat. Prove to yourself that you can do that consistently over a month or two and then pick another one or two categories and focus.

Did I Make it a Habit?

I’m on day one of my new habit. It’s going great. You may say that they say it takes (21, 45, 30) days to form a new habit—that a habit can’t be formed in one evening—but I’m confident you’re wrong! These six steps make it a given.

Oh, I suppose Step 2a is to be so publicly brazen about your new habit that it really is a given. Accountability is a heck of a life coach.

If organizing your financial life is a habit you’re interested in starting, we highly recommend it! And we can help! Try YNAB for free for 34 days.

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Make it a Habit: Start a New Habit in One Evening