Thoughts on the stages of a new habit
At the Oakland Grill counter. Post steak salad lunch, on a warm and sunny Friday. Avoiding my daily writing task.
I took on writing daily but have not been hitting the daily part just yet. I’m maybe every other day, or every third day now. Which is a big up-stat anyway.
It seems that anytime we take on something new, we go through some stages trying to get reliable and skilled. The first stage is clearly just about remembering to do the new thing and why we even are attempting it. Keeping the idea and inspiration alive is critical here.
The second stage seems to be about the design and fit of where the new thing goes in our lives. In this second stage, we struggle with times and places that don’t work, until we finally settle on one that does. I think there’s a fair amount of bouncing between the first two stages until we develop some habits and consistency.
In the the third stage we are consistently at work on the new thing but just not very good at it yet. This stage is all about developing our skill and capacity in the new thing. We are getting stronger in the third stage, even if it’s sometimes not obvious. Consistent tracking and review can reveal our progress and improvements.
A danger in this third stage is having our new regular habit, or practice, getting displaced by some big life event, like holidays, emergencies, travel, or any other interruption to our routine that lasts a week or more.
The fourth stage is about identity and the beginning of mastery. In the fourth stage, we start to see as ourselves as BEING the new thing. We go from running, to being runners, or from writing, to being writers. In this stage, the once new thing starts to enter the other parts of our lives and soon becomes a core part of our identity.
The fifth and final stage is about mastery. In the fifth stage, the new thing has gone from being part of our conscious identity to being something that we do without thinking, as automatically as breathing. It’s not that we have perfected the new thing, or become best at it, but the once new thing is now the always-was-thing and we have to be reminded and think back to what it was like before we started. In this stage we simply do, and be, without a second thought. We run, we write, and we do all the other things, just because that’s who we are now.