Back in December, I laid out three habits that I was planning to commit to in 2020 in an effort to become a better, more productive thinker.
- Wake up at 5:00 a.m. every day
- Start each day with a 10-minute planning session with a pen and my planner
- Schedule segments of focused work time and break time
These were essentially three habit seeds I wanted to plant in hopes that they would sprout into more consistent actions and better outcomes in the new year. I would just need to consistently add proper soil, water, and sunlight.
I also asked you to commit to three habits and, if you so chose, to share them with me or in the THINKERS Workshop.
At a minimum, I hope that you wrote them down.
Well, we're now more than three weeks into the new year. (Seriously, 2020 is already more than 6% complete. It happens fast.) That means it's time for a check-in, because it's easy to think about -- and even commit to -- a habit in December, but it's much more difficult and fraught to actually follow through with it in January and beyond.
And remember why this is important: because thinking is a habit!
It has to be.
We live in a society powered by technology that is designed to distract us from thinking deeply. Ubiquitous advertising, incessant notifications, and the slot machine-like underpinnings of social media and social gaming provide a barrage of challenges that make it hard to hold our attention on subjects that actually matter.
All of this means that if we don't take control of our attention and make thinking a habit, and if we aren't conscious about cultivating that habit, then we are tacitly allowing the opposite habits to develop.
And going from one unintentional, mindless moment to the next is what leads us to go from one unintentional, mindless day to the next ... which will undoubtedly lead us down an unfulfilling path with a destination we're unlikely to be satisfied with.
Sorry to be so bleak there, but it's true. The stakes really are that are high.
That's why I'm taking my habits so seriously in 2020, and why I hope you are too.
So, like I said, it's check-in time. I'll go first.
How am I doing with my 2020 habits for becoming a better thinker? Pretty well so far, I'll say.
1. Waking up earlier
Outside of one Sunday morning when I allowed myself to sleep in, I've gotten up between 5:00-5:15 every day. And while it was hard initially, and led to less sleep those first couple of weeks, sure enough it has had the intended effect over time: I'm now going to bed earlier and actually sleeping more.
I track my Sleep Score on my FitBit, and over the last four weeks it's gone from 66 to 69 to 70 to 73. I obviously still have a ways to go, but the steady progress is obvious.
Plus I feel it too. I'm physically stronger, more emotionally consistent, and more alert mentally.
Focusing on one keystone habit (waking up earlier) is having a cascading impact on other habits (going to sleep earlier, not eating or drinking at night, watching less TV and reading more, etc.). More on this idea of keystone habits in a bit.
2. Starting each day with pen, paper, and a plan
I am happy to report that I have a 100% success rate with this habit! I'm even carving out time on the weekends to sit down with my planner, set intentions for the day or upcoming week, track my habits, and reflect on how I'm doing.
And I've actually come to believe that this habit is the most important of them all.
Having this daily accountability time with myself keeps me tethered to my goals. And seeing my progress makes me more motivated to make tomorrow even better than today, which was better than yesterday. It's powerful.
Again, a keystone habit.
3. Schedule focused work time and break time
I'm not doing quite as well with this goal.
Each day I set three target objectives that I want to complete, and I layout on my calendar when I want to work on them. But so far I've done only an adequate job of sticking to this daily schedule.
I'm ultimately getting everything done, but I know I could be more efficient with it, and in the process have more time for exercise and for the non-urgent but important work that can truly make meaningful long-term progress possible.
So I want to work on getting better at this third habit, while maintaining and even building upon my progress with the first two habits.
What have I learned about building better thinking habits during these first few weeks of 2020?
- That keystone habits (a term originally coined by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit) can have a remarkable cascading impact on helping you develop multiple good habits at once.
- That spending time writing with pen and paper can have a profound impact on underlying beliefs and motivations.
- And that becoming a better thinker isn't just going to happen by accident in today's and age; but you can make steady progress by being intentional and building better habits.
Don't just take my word for it though.
Below you will find three links that show some of the theory and science behind each of these lessons that I've learned (or been reminded of) through my own experience these past few weeks.
Before I go, I want to ask: do you want to share the progress you've made with your habits and goals for the new year?
If so, then visit us at the THINKERS Workshop.
We're here to help you build better thinking habits.
Okay, now onto this week's links ...
How a single habit can create an outsized impact.
There are certain habits and routines that make success easier, regardless of the circumstances you face.
In fact, you may already practice some of these habits, even though you are unaware of it right now.
But most importantly, if you understand how to harness these habits, then you can drastically improve your health, your work, and your relationships … and start living the life you deserve.
Read: Keystone Habits: The Simple Way to Improve All Aspects of Your Life (James Clear)
This specific type of journaling can help you access, and change, underlying beliefs.
Journaling is so popular that most of us take for granted the reasons why we do it. While these reasons will vary from person to person, there are two qualities of journaling that are particularly important to the practice described in this article.
1. You open up to a broader perspective. When you sit down and write about your experiences and feelings, you choose to dedicate a special time window to reflecting on your own life. By putting your emotions and thoughts on paper, you gain some momentum in the process of working through them. They stop being absolute, and you feel less overwhelmed. You imply that they do not reflect the whole of reality, as it may often feel when you’re deep into them. You become, in a sense, an observer of your own thinking.
2. You can change your views. You get more perspective on your thinking because you force yourself to slow it down. By acting as an observer of yourself, you have a chance to reorganize your thinking, spot patterns in it, and choose to change your mind with the fresh information you discover.
Read: Cognitive Journaling: A Systematic Method to Overcome Negative Beliefs (Better Humans)
Thinking is a skill that can be developed through intentional practice.
Just as with any skill, some of us are better at thinking than others. Why?
We're seduced into believing that brilliant thinkers are born that way. We think they magically produce brilliant ideas.
Nothing could be further from the truth. While there are likely genetic exceptions, the vast majority of the people we consider brilliant use their minds differently.
Often, these geniuses practice learnable habits of thinking that allow them to see the world differently.
Read: 5 ways to become a better thinker (Shane Parrish for The Week)
Quote of the week
“Change might not be fast and it isn't always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.”
-- Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit
Chief Creative Thinker