What I’m Missing This July and Lessons in Habit Forming

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Here are three truths I know about myself:

  1. I am a procrastinator. If someone started a group called Procrastinators Anonymous, I would be a charter member, and I would raise my hand and proclaim, “My name is Maura, and I am a procrastinator.”
  2. I am hideously guilty of negative self-talk. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. In fact, I am ridiculously thankful for my good friend, Paula, whose (almost daily) refrain in our text thread is, “I’m not going to listen to you talk about my friend, Maura, that way.” (Bless her. Truly. And not in the hateful Southern way.)
  3. I have lots of good ideas. Like, really, really good ideas. And the terrible combination of numbers 1 and 2 often gets in the way of them.

I am working on turning over a new leaf. Or at least, I am doing some positive things to combat what I know are my faults and turn them into positives. And so far, it seems to be working. In baby steps, of course, but working nonetheless.

If you’re interested, here’s what I’m missing in July (and why that’s a good thing) and some lessons I’ve learned about habits.

So…July. I knew it would be a challenge. However, I knew some parts would be easier than others. No sugar? No problem! No alcohol? I’ll miss my rosé of an evening, but doable. No grains? Wait. No bread? Like none at all? Okay, whose idea was this, anyway.

Oh, wait. Right. It was my idea. Trudging along…

In my typical nerdy style, I did a good bit of reading and research on creating habits (and breaking them) before heading into this month. It turns out that a lot of what we’re told (and a lot of what we generally accept — and quote as truth) about habits is totally false. (Yeah, that do-something-21-times-and-it’ll-become-a-habit-thing? Total bubkes!) British journalist Oliver Burkeman wrote (with sufficient British snark to make me snort my iced tea out of my nose), “Everyone knows that it takes 28 days to develop a new habit, or perhaps 21, or 18, depending on who you ask; anyway, the point is that it’s a specific number, which makes it sound scientific and thus indisputably true… This is, of course, poppycock and horsefeathers…”

I learned a few things about habits in general:

  • Good/positive habits (basically everything I have set in motion for July: exercise, health benefits, and better eating — also better work habits, but that will be the subject of another post) don’t have immediately-obvious rewards — the rewards take longer to achieve or to show up, so it’s easier to give up and say, “it’s just not working!”
  • Bad/negative habits (alcoholic beverages — *ahem* — to name one) tend to bring about immediate gratification, so they can be more difficult to control or quit.
  • Habits are really just goals and should be approached as they should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based goals); in other words, they should be clearly articulated, and you should be realistic about what you can actually achieve. Take small bites out of that elephant instead of trying to eat it all at once.
  • With developing new habits, as with running and exercise, your brain will want to quit before your muscles do. Don’t let your brain tell you that you can’t do it (there’s that negative self-talk!) — let your muscles (in this case, that super-strong muscle, your heart) keep telling you that you can. If you want to do it, know that you can if you persevere.

According to executive coach Tom Bartow, habit forming is a three-step process, and I’m feeling the truth of that already, at the end of Day 16 of my Personal July Challenge. First, he says, is The Honeymoon. During The Honeymoon, it feels so easy. I can do this forever! Weighing my food — no problem! And I don’t even want a glass of wine or bread and cheese. And work out — done! In fact, I’m ready to work out some more! Keep it coming! THIS FEELS GREAT! (Have you ever felt like that in your personal or business life? Be honest! I’ll bet the answer is yes.)

Second step: The Fight Thru. Yep, that basically started today. I literally (and if you know me, you know I only use the word “literally” when I literally mean literally) just sent a text to a group thread with two girlfriends that read: “I hate working out. I quit. Feed me pizza. And wine.” (Check my texts. I promise. I wrote that.) I struggled to close my workout rings today and came this close to a childlike tantrum at 6:07 PM because I really, really did not want to even go upstairs and do yoga. To combat this feeling, Bartow says to ask yourself two questions: “How will I feel if I do this?” and “How will I feel if I don’t do this?” My answer to the latter is the reason I went upstairs and did the yoga…and then down to the basement to the rowing machine. Workout is done — and yes, I’m glad I did it.

The third step should be Second Nature. I’m eagerly awaiting this step to set in, but it may be a while, and it may not come by Day 21 (stupid 21-day myth!). I may have to deal with The Fight Thru for a while; I may have many days ahead of asking myself those two questions for motivation: “How will I feel if I do this?” and “How will I feel if I don’t do this?” 

What does this have to do with real estate, you ask? Here’s what: July is about getting the foundation in place for me, personally. Eating better, exercising, and creating good habits for my body and mind means next month (my birthday month!), I should be feeling good about those things…even if I’m still occasionally dealing with The Fight Thru. I should see some results after 31 days, even just little ones that will be the motivation I need to keep (most of) those good habits going (I promise you, there will be wine again in my future!). Overcoming the negative self-talk, for me, is a big part of The Fight Thru, but as I see results, I am more willing to fight through — just like with a new business idea or marketing plan. When I see results and I know my big idea is working, I get that boost, I keep fighting through, and I know there’s success on the other side.

Apply the above to your business, which I plan to do when I start to add new habits to my daily schedule for August. I am already working on my August Rules. This is a work in progress, but it’s once again going to be a focused list since the more focused it is, the more likely I’ll be able to complete the goals and find success. August will include the continuation of some of July’s Rules — closing my rings every day, tracking my food, downing the apple cider vinegar, and a gallon of water per day. Wine will become a part of my life again, but maybe just on the weekends. And I’ll be introducing some new habits: scheduling out my writing to be consistent every week, same time, same day; being more intentional about marketing and social media on a schedule, and making a schedule for contacting my clients via handwritten note, phone, and email (and sticking to it). Essentially, being more intentional about time-blocking and writing and tracking all of it.

Circling back to those three truths about myself above, here’s how July is helping me with those:

  1. I simply cannot procrastinate on working out (tonight was a near miss!) because I have to close those rings every day. I have made specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based goals that are totally doable — I just have to make myself do them. (After all, I can’t say I’ll just work out tomorrow — because my app won’t let me lie!)
  2. The goals I’ve set for myself just don’t allow me to say, “I can’t do that.” Because I know that I can. I’ve set attainable goals, period. I may not run the fastest mile, but I can run the mile, so I’ll get it done and be glad I did.
  3. July was a big idea for me — I’m more than halfway through. On to the next big idea, which I’m already cooking up!

I’ll check back in at the end of July and let you know how the month finished up!