21 day habits versus 3 year construction projects

Many have been sold an idea that it takes only 21 days to create a new habit. Do something new every day till Jan 22 and you’re set for this year and the next few.

Sadly, it is one of those ideas that does no long term good. It only serves to set you up for disappointment.

I reflected recently on important habit changes I’ve attempted over the past decade and I’ve come to realize that the most valuable of the lot took, on average, 3 years. The first few were infrastructure habits – reading nearly every day, writing every day, sleeping 8 hours, waking up early, and exercising regularly. Over the last few years, they’ve been mindset related habits – defining a purpose and attempting to live in accordance to it and focusing on processes versus outcomes.

I realized this as I reflected on the process I made on the theme for 2017 – engagement. My takeaway was that the progress I made this year involved awareness – or identifying the extent of the mountain I have to climb. I made headway to improving my engagement at work – with a no laptop or leave policy in meetings I chose to attend as an example. But, I realized I’m far from where I’d like to be at home. Similarly, I made significant progress in the specific areas I wanted to focus on – health, information diet and seek to understand and then to be understood. But, then again, I still feel I’ve got a long way to go.

That sounds like a “fail” grade on the report card. But, I realized that this was normal. In each of the previous examples, the first year was all about identification and awareness. The second involved testing solutions and, hopefully, finding a few that work. And, the third involved practicing them.

Habits worth having are 3 year construction projects. They take a lot of patience, many check ins, a lot of re-commitment and kindness – to ourselves. But, there are few things more powerful than being able to look at yourself today and to realize that you have made changes in areas that mattered to you. Even if it takes 3 years, the juice is always worth the squeeze.

I know that isn’t the most exciting or inspiring thought as you think about habits you’d like to work on in the new year. But, it will hopefully set you up for success in the long run.

That would be success in my book.